As expected, my debate with Benjamin Cohen made it into the pages of Pink News. “Catholic disagrees with gay marriage, IVF and surrogacy” shocker! I’m not too bothered, several people expressed the perspective that the whole affair was about Ben trying to mine some controversial quotes.
That said it’s probably worth clarifying a few points. It is not my point of view that Benjamin Cohen is transphobic and neither as the report claims, was I trying to infer that.
What I was trying to get out is that Ben (and others) clearly do have a problem with Tara and myself being friends which is why he originally intervened.
.@blondpidge@Tara_Hewitt Tara I've now lost what little respect I had left for you. I'm assuming you now oppose same-sex marriage too?
This is the nub of the matter – Catholic teaching on sexuality means that instead of attempting to understand and respect each other’s point of view, Tara along with any other LGBT advocate and myself should hate each other.
That we come together on issues of mutual agreement and that I make no attempt to hector Tara into accepting a Catholic vision of sexuality, completely undermines this narrative of Catholics (and me in particular) of being hate-filled spittle-flecked individuals trying to force or impose our faith onto other people.
There are two tactics going on here. One is to undermine our friendship by pointing out Catholic doctrine on sexuality. “How can you be friends with her, she thinks this, ergo she HATES you, ergo you must have psychological problems and be filled with self-hatred to be friends with such a woman”. Our friendship must not be accepted or validated as genuine, built upon principles of mutual trust, care and respect, but instead painted as deeply dysfunctional. It is hoped that this will have the effect of ending our friendship, enabling the hateful horrible homophobe narrative to continue to be perpetuated. It’s pretty hard to claim someone is filled with hate and loathing towards the LGBT community if they number them as friends. Actually Tara is not my only LGBT friend (I expect Pink News will ask them to all come forward and identify themselves) by any stretch of the imagination. But then again as Ben Cohen has tweeted that any gays who oppose gay marriage for anyone other than themselves are homophobes, then a quarter of the UK LGBT population merit this label according to the Com Res poll conducted in 2012.
The second, more disturbing tactic is to attempt to cut Tara off from the support of the LGBT community on account of her views. The whole point of this piece was to highlight a member of their community who is bold enough to publicly deviate from group think and hold her up for derision. While I roared with laughter at the piece, Tara’s views as presented seemed perfectly reasonable and mainstream and not at all outrageous or extreme, what concerned me was an attempt to undermine her job and political career, by rendering her controversial, toxic, untouchable, someone who causes upset.
Tara is not opposed purely to same-sex IVF or surrogacy, but to all of these issues as she explains in her blog. Although she has mentioned that she is an NHS diversity consultant, she never talked about her job or her employers on the internet, nor has she been anything other than crystal clear that these are her personally held views. Nonetheless her employers have been contacted for comment.
It is my understanding that the role of a diversity consultant is to ensure that employees and clients are not discriminated against by virtue of their ethnicity, disability, sexuality, gender or any other characteristic. Their job is to provide equal access to employment opportunities as well as client services and ensure that the workplace is doing all that it can to serve the diverse needs of the community.
A diversity consultant would have no say over whether or not services such as IVF should be available and if so how many cycles each couple should receive; these are policy decisions which are made by senior management and clinical staff. I have no idea whether the area of the NHS in which Tara works is even concerned with fertility treatments; she assures me this does not form a part of her role, but her professionalism means that even though she may disagree with IVF as a concept, she still needs to ensure that everyone who qualifies for it under the NHS is able to access it.
There is no discernible reason why someone who believes that every child deserves the chance of a loving mother and father and that babies shouldn’t be removed from their mothers, unless there is a compelling reason to do so, is incapable of working as a diversity consultant. Believing that the state shouldn’t conspire to engineer a situation in which children are removed from their natural parents shouldn’t impact upon one’s diversity and equality credentials.
When did we become so emotionally needy as a nation, that we are unable to cope with stiff differences of opinion or disagreement? The reason why people are agitating for Tara to be kicked out of her job is because they cannot bear the idea of a state agency employing someone in an official capacity who will not validate their desires. A couple who have used IVF or surrogacy might feel ‘judged’ knowing that someone employed within a particular NCT trust disagrees with a life decision that they have made and that would never do.
If Tara had expressed a belief in Jesus Christ, son of God who was crucified, died, was buried and rose again on the third day, people may have looked upon her perhaps rather indulgently or patronisingly, but it would have not have created the storm of outrage. Which is why the secularist lobby are keen to disassociate life issues from religious conscience, arguing that these beliefs are not integral to religion which should in any event be kept private. Only those who believe that LGBT are inferior human beings could possibly object to a child missing out on their mum or dad.
The only imposition going on here is of one particular viewpoint or mindset as being acceptable for certain state employees. Since when did diversity mean sanctioning every single viewpoint as being equally valid? Since when did diversity not allow for believing that women are exploited by the surrogacy industry and that children should not be treated as commodities? Why should this view disbar you from working to help enable marginalised sections of society access appropriate services?
The only way to avoid damaging culture wars is to listen to and attempt to respect the views of other people, even if we do not wish to sanction or implement their ideas. Surely we can agree to disagree on some issues, while working together on areas of common consent rather than turn certain other groups into untouchables?
When Benjamin Cohen described me as an ‘anti-euqality campaigner’ he was disingenuously implying that I work hard to perpetuate inequality and suffering and trying to paint me as a singularly unpleasant person. I can live with the ostracism of Pink News readers, but it doesn’t really do much to foster positive relationships and raises the emotional temperature. This is the kind of attitude that makes people afraid to speak out for fear of being labelled as fundamentalists. Believing that marriage is not a matter of equality, does not mean that one considers other people as second class citizens and as long-term readers of my blog will remember, I have been criticised in the past by some quarters for my inherent support of the rights that civil partnerships accord and for wishing for these rights to be extended.
In my previous post I outlined precisely my position regarding surrogacy and IVF which is not based upon any wish to discriminate. I have no experience of infertility, I cannot begin to imagine how painful it must be not to be able to have children, but the existence of certain technologies or techniques in order to conceive them does not automatically justify their use. The argument is essentially a moral one about whether or not the ends justifies the means and the values we place upon human life. Can we do what we like in order to secure the outcome we want, regardless of the potential cost?
The most important thing to clear up here is accusations of being opposed to the Jewish religion as specifically alleged by Benjamin Cohen who states that I campaigned to stop liberal and progressive Synagogues from solemnising gay relationships. Firstly it’s worth noting that not all branches of Judaism support gay marriage. Secondly, I did not specifically campaign to prevent Synagogues from solemnising gay relationships. I was part of an effort which campaigned to keep marriage defined as between a man and a woman in UK law. Synagogues, along with any other religious institution should be free to perform whatever ceremonies and rituals which their religion proscribes (with provisos surrounding physical harms). I do not adhere to the Islamic proposition that a man may have 4 wives, however I am not campaigning for Muslims to be prohibited from taking multiple spouses. Asking that the law reflects existing Judeo-Christian principles and only recognises marriage as one man and one woman, does not oppress religious freedom or prevent people from following different cultural or religious practices. Non-legal recognition or solemnisation of certain situations does not prohibit people from entering into them informally, nor does it make them illegal or against the law.
Anti-equality campaigner, opposed to Judaism, fundamentalist, or just someone who follows the teachings of the Catholic church as articulated by the Pope?
Kudos and prayers for Tara for her bravery. By daring to be friends with Catholics and supporting a pro-life point of view she has put her job on the line and has made an unlikely champion of religious freedom and rejected the frame of the culture wars.
A few days ago a lovely young non-Christian girlfriend of mine messaged me on Facebook. “Would you ever consider getting a nine to five job?” she asked. “Sure”, was my response, “I’ll need to get a job at some point, but probably not until all of the children are at school”.
“Aren’t you worried” she said, “that your views on gay marriage will hurt you?”. Very telling from someone who has been, if not an advocate of “gay marriage”, has certainly openly supported it, seeing no problem with gay marriage in a civil context, but vehemently disagreeing with those who would wish to have it imposed on religious institutions.
She has a good point. The two professions which I have oscillated over entering over the past few years, namely midwifery and teaching, I have to accept are no longer avenues that would likely be open to me on account of my views.
Recently there has been a ridiculous furore amongst Catholics (who should frankly have better things to do with their time) on Twitter over the use of pseudonymous tweeting and blogging. One tweeter, whom I shall decline to name, has been leading something of a one-man crusade against “sock-puppets”, demanding that every new pseudonymous account provides him with their name and address and some form of credentials in order to prove that they are not in fact, a ‘fake’. Anyone who declines to do so, is instantly decried and publicly denigrated as a fraud, pseudonymous tweeters should, in his humble opinion, be banned, either one should tweet in one’s own name or not at all. If you have something to hide, then you should not be on Twitter, Catholics should be out and proud, happy to be derided and martyred for their views along with the likes of St Thomas More.
Which is all very well, but what when those views could seriously interfere with one’s job prospects, or result in your being sacked? I can well imagine that if I was still in some of my former jobs, this blog would result in my dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct. Not that I have said or done anything scandalous, but simply being ‘out there’ as an opponent of things like abortion, surrogacy, IVF and gay marriage, would cause colleagues to feel uncomfortable, as though they were being ‘judged’ and an employer may consider that their reputation could well be damaged as a result of having an employee who held such scandalous and counter-cultural views.
It cannot be much of a surprise that the majority of non-clerical Catholic tweeters and bloggers employ pseudonyms which they zealously guard; being considered up there with St Thomas More is wonderful, the consequences of which may not be martyrdom, they could certainly impact on others such as vulnerable young family members. While losing your job may do wonders for one’s Catholic credentials, it doesn’t exactly put bread on the table for your children and certainly will affect one’s future job prospects. I wonder whether even a company like Tescos, former sponsors of Gay Pride, would give you a job stacking shelves in these days where one’s name and entire history can be easily googled?
Clearly, unless one has a ‘Catholic’ or even ‘Christian’ job, it’s inadvisable to be open about one’s faith on the internet. It’s not the same as being shot at in Eygpt or beheaded in Syria, but free-speech is limited for serious Christians, like it or not, which is in itself a form of persecution. Should Adrian Smith, the housing officer who was demoted over comments made about gay marriage on his personal Facebook page, have simply shrugged his shoulders and “grown up” as the former Archbishop of Canterbury would appear to suggest?
What about the pro-life GP hounded off Twitter by the Irish pro-abort crowd who reported him to the GMC and NHS because using his real name, he expressed pro-life views? Should he too just accept that his beliefs are incompatible with his profession (to save lives not take them) and therefore his freedom of expression is limited and he should just ‘man-up’?
Freedom of expression, is clearly not as serious as threats to livelihood, but it is very much tied up with freedom of association and the right to earn a decent wage in the profession of one’s choice.
Being a Christian is not just a ‘hobby’, it’s not like being a Stars Wars fan, or doing the odd bit of voluntary work, we are compelled to live our faith, which is more than simply going to Church on a Sunday or holy days of obligation and keeping our mouths firmly shut the rest of the time. Faith is not simply that funny habit which mummy and daddy have that we take out of a box and parade as necessary before putting back, but something that needs to be lived, daily, in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions. Faith is not something we leave in the pews on a Sunday. We are commanded to evangelise, and part of that has to be, at some stage, expressing our views, grounded as they are in compassion, hope and charity, not keeping our mouths shut out of fear. Obviously there is a time and a place to do that, no-one wants to be pounced on by fierce evangelisation, a colleague quoting Revelation and fire and brimstone at 9am round the water-cooler on a Monday morning, but neither should we be afraid to put forward or propose our views in the public square, as appropriate.
But increasingly, that is what we are having to accept and what the likes of the National Secular Society are wanting to impose upon us as well as removing our rights to educate our children in accordance with our faith.
I have to accept that even if I were to delete this entire blog tomorrow, due to my Catholic Voices work and my writing for the Catholic press, any future employment prospects outside of the Catholic or pro-life sphere, are limited.
Rowan Williams misses the point when he tells Christians to grow up if they are made to feel uncomfortable or made fun of. When you look at my most persistent trolls and aggressive interlocutors, the verbal violence has stemmed from the fact that they are made uncomfortable by my writing. By rejecting their views and offering an alternative, I am, by their logic, rejecting them, rejecting their lifestyle decisions and by not unconditionally agreeing that abortion, gay marriage, promiscuity or whatever else is perfectly acceptable, I cause enormous amounts of anger and hate to be directed at me.
Surely it is those who cannot accept that everyone will approve of their choices, who should grow up, instead of seeking to silence opponents?
Whatever the answer the fact that Christians are increasingly afraid to speak out under their real names on the internet (my mother is terribly anxious as a result of my writing), the fact that some feel silenced at work and that faith can prove a barrier to gainful employment in a chosen profession, is in itself a form of persecution. Whilst it’s helpful to keep this in perspective and remember that the situation is not as dire as in other parts of the world, we should not succumb to victim top-trumps, but neither should we deny that this is happening, turn a blind eye, shrug our shoulders and giggle whilst people are losing their livelihoods or are too scared to speak their minds.
Injustice is injustice, regardless of the semantics that one wishes to employ to describe the situation, but to try to pretend it is not happening, in a vain attempt to shore up our existing position and win popularity, is to co-operate in our own persecution. Losing your job for refusing to teach secular sex ed or gay ‘marriage’ might not be up there with getting one’s head cut off for apostasy. But that’s scant comfort to those who are in the firing line. Being disbarred from a job is more than feeling ‘mildly uncomfortable’.
Next time someone tries to smear my mental health or imply that my children are at risk and should be removed as a result of my ‘homophobic’ and pro-life views, as has happened frequently in the past, I’ll just giggle. I’ll accept that we could never be considered as suitable foster parents and give some temporary stability to needy children later on in life, due to our faith. Next time I see a job advertised that I could do with my hands tied behind my back in a local authority or a non-Catholic institution in Brighton, I’ll accept that it’s pointless to put in an application. It’s all my own fault for expounding my Catholic views in public, in today’s tolerant society.
If being grown up is about accepting, condoning, ignoring and laughing at inequality of opportunity as a result of faith, I’d rather be an idealistic child. Of course, when one’s entire ministry has consisted of serving God, when one’s religious views have led to positions within the highest echelons of academia at one of the country’s most prestigious universities and indeed when one as risen to the highest possible rank within one’s church, it is naturally very difficult to conceive of what persecution might look like for your rank and file Christian countryman.
Calah Alexander, a young American Catholic convert who writes the provocatively titled Barefoot and Pregnant blog seems to have caused something of a minor brouhaha with her most recent post. She is currently 4 months pregnant, found herself in need of a maternity bra, so went out shopping wearing a t-shirt bearing the ‘offensive’ slogan stating that Birth Control is for Sissies and then had the audacity to write about the reactions she rerceived.
Though not partial to slogan t-shirts on anyone over the age of 5, I have to admire her chutzpah and bravery, having some sympathy with the sentiment expressed. As Calah is well aware from her post, wearing any kind of ideological slogan on clothing does invite a response, particularly when it is as obviously counter-cultural as denouncing birth control; combined with the physical manifestation of her belief, i.e. her emerging bump, the image and statement was especially potent.
The post was quite lighthearted in tone,(though Calah pulls no punches in terms of choice of phrase, I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of her), she describes the relief and transformation in discovering the effects of a well-fitting bra, the trials and tribulations of shoe-shopping and buying ice-cream with the kids, but she also describes the reaction she received from others whilst out shopping wearing said shirt, which tended from the incredulous to the downright hostile, and ending on a humorous note, when she bumped into another mother, who recognised her from Church.
All in all, a quirky and touching blogpost from a typical American Catholic mom, sharing some of her life with us. Nothing to get offended about surely?
WRONG. As @kathleengreenwood pointed out, it spawned an entire 7 page hate-fest on a forum full of self-professed snarky mothers. The blogpost spawned comments such as “what a f*cking b*tch”, “I want to slap her across the face”, “I hate people like her, I’ll take my pill…you f*cking b*tch”. Yeah, kudos to the sisterhood! They then congratulated themselves on how morally superior they were to this ignorant fundie, encouraged and incited others to leave comments pointing out the error of her ways, and then became downright obsessive, trawling through her blog to see what other thought crimes may have been committed to the blogosphere, venting their vitriolic spleen and bile.
It seems Calah has previous form. On one occasion her little boy got rushed to hospital with severe anaphylactic shock requiring them to pay $280 for an epi-pen. They didn’t have the money, so took it out of the children’s’ Christmas present fund, thinking that a life was more important than presents and that their kids would be well catered for by the extended family. She made the heinous statement that it seemed mightily unfair that under the vagaries of the US healthcare system she had to pay a substantial amount for something that was absolutely necessary in terms of saving her son’s life, the state would not assist, however they will provide contraception and birth control free of charge, something that she feels is unnecessary, as if you don’t wish to get pregnant there’s a simple answer. She has a point, one might not agree, but it does not necessitate the level of hatred. Every detail of her life was poured over in an attempt to prove what an awful person she really is and discredit her point of view. She is obviously a liar who puts herself before her children, as evidenced by the fact that she went to a relatively upmarket department store. Her finances and entire lifestyle were subject to scrutiny.
“Her house seems nice are they really running so short they can’t buy gifts and meds? Shouldn’t they have been budgeted out or don’t they have emergency funds for sh*t happens”.
“That confused me too. I feel like it was her way of getting pity. ‘Our poor children didn’t get Christmas gifts BUT at least they have their brother’ !!! I also find it odd that they couldn’t scrounge up a little extra cash to get one or two gifts for each child yet she now is buying decent bras and dress shoes for the kids at the mall”.
The thread reads like it’s been taken over by the below-the-line comments on the Daily Mail. How very tolerant. How very inclusive. How very pro-choice! The ernest feminists seem to have utterly missed the point. It. was. a joke. I thought that the t-shirt was rather good. It didn’t even need to be a Catholic or ideological statement, it could just have been highly ironic or self-deprecating. Ah, I forgot, I’m dealing with Americans here. One commenter noted that she would have refused to serve a woman who was wearing such a t-shirt and, she pouted, she would have been backed up by her boss. Gotta love those all-American land of the free and home of the brave values on display there. The most ludicrous comment was that the t-shirt was deliberately ‘homophobic’ with its mention of the word sissy.
Needless to say it all rather resonated. This forum made clear that they were not prepared to tolerate this woman, they hated her and all they believed that she stood for. I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not she would have elicited that reaction had she not been a Catholic?
But the statement on the t-shirt and its reaction does bear a little analysis. Why is it so hateful? Taken on face value it is a statement that proclaims that pregnancy and motherhood is difficult, not for sissies, not for the feint-hearted, but the truly heroic. Which is precisely why it upset the feminists with their “we are the strong tough fearless Amazonian pioneering women” self-vision quite so much. It implies that anyone who deliberately avoids motherhood is somehow a weaker specimen. And therein lies the paradox and antagonism at the heart of modern feminism. On the one hand it strives to be the Xena warrior princess, fearless, brave and bold goddess, stronger, bigger, bolder and better than men, yet on the other, in order to survive it also has to tap into the vying narrative of victimhood. Hence lots of outraged comments along the lines of how people would have to take hormonal birth control, otherwise their uterus would fall out, and obviously Calah, with her outrageous ideas that women can actually refuse to have sex if they don’t want to get pregnant, is slut-shaming and blaming, wishing to impose Victorian morality and blame on women. Either as women we are strong and in control, or we are not? Or is it that we want to be, but are still oppressed by the patriarchy and so have no choice other than to have sex, so must protect ourselves any way we can?
I can’t help but hearken back to that statement by Mary Wollstonecraft who saw abortion as being a consequence of women becoming weaker than they would otherwise be, if they had not been subject to sexual objectification.
“Women becoming, consequently, weaker, in mind and body, than they ought to be, were one of the grand ends of their being taken into account, that of bearing and nursing children, have not sufficient strength to discharge the first duty of a mother; and sacrificing to lasciviousness the parental affection, that ennobles instinct, either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born. Nature in everything demands respect, and those who violate her laws seldom do so with impunity”.
Pregnancy and childbirth are at the very core of femininity which is why feminists fight so hard for what they believe is control over their own bodies. The paradox being that this physical control admits, encourages and coerces female subordination. Female fertility is a problem, something that must be repressed and overcome, the body must be stopped from carrying out its natural functions of monthly ovulation and potential to bear children. A society that continues to view women’s fertility as a problem to be solved, is a society that does not value women and places unfair expectations upon them. Whilst society continues to view female fertility and childbirth as a problem, then women will never achieve true equality. Empowerment is an illusion in that a woman is only ever empowered if she can be 100% sure that her contraception will work and is entirely happy with the notion of aborting an unwanted unborn child in case it doesn’t. Are any feminists truly happy that most women chose to abort because they feel that they have no other economic or social choice? After all we are always being told that women don’t stroll into the abortion clinic as if it were Starbucks?
Bibi Lynch tragically and bitterly captured the essence of how it can feel to be a childless woman in the Guardian last week.
“You won’t heal – because this is deep in you. What you’re supposed to do. What’s inside us to do. What we’re born to do. And you didn’t do it.”
Motherhood is without a doubt the most joyful and rewarding experiences there is. That does not mean that it is easy. Pregnancy is often a struggle, multiple young children at times demanding and stressful, even if one does stay at home. It may not be the same type of stress as the demands of a career, but it is nonetheless challenging at times. Responding to the catty comments of Hilary Rosen that she was somehow a lesser or inferior species due to not having worked, but instead been a stay-at-home mum or to use the now un-PC term, housewife, Romney said that just because they had not financially struggled, her life as mother of five children, has not been without its fair share of struggle, including fights against cancer.
Being prepared to endure pregnancy and childbirth, being prepared to die to self for the needs of others, is a sign of great strength, not weakness or oppression. Child-rearing entails a great deal of sacrifice, physically and emotionally.
Not using birth control is a sign of strength, it is a sign of responsibility and being prepared to accept and endure the consequences of having sex. It is not a fatalistic mentality, but a working with the feminine rhythms of your body, not attempting to counteract them. It is an exercise in self-control and potentially standing up to a partner keen to get amorous.
Why did Calah Alexander attract so much hate? Because she dared to go against and question a feminist mantra and by doing so demonstrated that she is stronger than others who (for perfectly legitimate reasons) have decided not to have more children. Anyone who cannot cope with a humorous slogan on a t-shirt that has a grain of truth and challenges a deeply cherished orthodoxy and is so moved to incite and spew tirades of loathing and spite, is not as tolerant and pro freedom of choice as they would claim. Anyone who feels so defensive as to chuck indiscriminate hatred and wish violence upon a total stranger because they disagree with a point of view is a bigot. Why have they reacted so strongly? Because they feel ‘judged’.
All of which proves that Calah was right all along. They really are sissies.
Given the wealth of polemic flying about the internet with regards to same-sex marriage, I’m loathe to add my voice to the tumultuous din, particularly given that I already blogged a few months back, but some important points are being lost amidst the white-hot passionate rhetoric on both sides, which is becoming increasingly partisan and, from what I have observed today, disturbingly anti-Catholic in tone.
As there are so many intertwined issues, I am going to break my habit of lengthy screeds, by breaking up into sub-headings to address the various issues
Why the Anti-Catholicism?
Firstly Cardinal O’Brien’s article in the Daily Telegraph and subsequent disastrous interview on the Today programme shifted the terms of the debate from what constitutes marriage and its place in our society to Catholic doctrine regarding homosexuality. Whilst many Catholics and indeed Christians of all denominations may have intellectually accepted his argument and applauded him, his intemperate language raised the emotional ante. I was asked by Tom Chivers of the Daily Telegraph whether or not I condoned his “disgusting comments”. My response: I think they were unhelpful.
Whilst many Catholics are very poorly catechised with regards to the doctrine on human sexuality, this is a matter that needs to be addressed internally, the pages of a national newspaper and a radio programme with an audience of millions is not the most appropriate medium to expound the complexities and nuances of Catholic doctrine. As I have discovered to my cost, the nuances and complexities of doctrine are completely lost on the majority, who are unable to contextualise or see beyond philosophical and theological language and understandably take huge offence.
The extremely powerful letter issued by Archbishops Nichols and Smith has done much to redress the balance, many were glad to hear Archbishop Nichols state on the radio yesterday morning that it is not the intention of the Catholic Church to condemn anyone, Monday’s Gospel reading reminds us of the words of Jesus “Do not condemn and you will not be condemned”, (Luke 6:37) but due to its very persuasiveness and the potential audience of over 4 million Catholics, as well as being widely reported in the mainstream media, this has brought an element of anti-Catholicism to the fore, with the old familiar tropes, which do nothing to engage with the actual point at hand.
Does the anti-Catholicism matter? To a certain extent it doesn’t, Catholics in the UK are accustomed to centuries of recusancy, Christ himself said that it would not be easy to follow him, however whilst on the one hand we need to keep a sense of perspective in terms of persecution, we are not persecuted in the same way as Christians in Egypt, Iran or Pakistan for example, it is important that we fight against this perjorative smearing and distortion of our faith. To meekly accept it as our lot, accepts our own marginalisation, we need to defend our faith through the use of reason and apologetics, otherwise we rule ourselves out of all public discourse and cease to have any influence or voice in society. Though we are Catholics (and the same applies to all faiths) we should not isolate ourselves from society, we are members of it and thus have a right to participate and be heard if we want to impact the Common Good. It is extremely damaging and potentially dangerous to accept the often violent anti-Catholic/Christian sentiment of the type I have seen expressed today. Whilst there are shameful episodes in the Church’s history, not least the abuse scandal, we must not allow this to taint people’s perceptions of the Church and keep them from discovering the joy of faith. We must appeal to reason, not adopt a passive mentality. There is a difference between turning the other cheek and lining up one’s brethren for a good slapping.
Why are Churchgoers more important than bingo attendees?
This was the question asked by Hugo Rifkind today. Well in one sense they are not. All members of a democratic society should have equal say. It is not churchgoers who are more important, but churches/religions are more influential in society than bingo halls. If we are going to run with this analogy, bingo halls are simply there to generate profit for the owners. Religions are the embodiment of Cameron’s elusive Big Society. The Catholic Church is one of the largest charitable organisations in the world. It is the second biggest provider of humanitarian relief in Africa. The Catholic Church, along with the Anglican Communion and other religions actively work in society, in communities for the good of other people. Religious believers give more to charity and do more unpaid voluntary work, than non-believers. More people do unpaid work for church organisations than other organisations. Work, such as visiting the sick, setting up playgroups, lunches for the elderly and so on.
Though we cannot surmise that the average church-goer is a better person than the atheist bingo-player, it can be stated that religion can be a force for great good and members do a lot for society and thus deserve to be heard. The truth is that religions are better placed to be able to motivate an organised, strategic, campaign – churches, mosques, synagogues, temples are all cohesive communities with shared aims who are easier to mobilise. Religions are concerned with working towards the common good, bingo halls with individual profit. Religions also make up a greater proportion of the population.
Why is the Church so bothered – it won’t be forced to accept anything?
That’s not strictly true. We are entering unchartered waters here. It is true to say that were this proposal to go ahead then the Catholic Church would, in all likelihood, not be compelled to conduct same-sex weddings. The same cannot be said of the Church of England. Various Anglican canonists are concerned, given that Anglican vicars act as agents of the state, to use their official title, they are “clerks in holy orders”, that they may well be compelled to conduct same sex weddings or face legal proceedings. A local “Conservative” MP in Hove, Mike Weatherly, has called for churches who do not conduct same-sex weddings to be closed down. The former fresh-faced housewives’ favourite, Will Young, stated on Question Time this week, that Cardinal O’Brien should be up in court for hate-speech. When questioned whether this should necessitate religious leaders being called into police stations for their religious beliefs, Young replied “yes, rightfully so”. His views were shared by shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint and Will Self.
Whilst it is not yet clear whether or not churches may be compelled to conduct weddings, what is apparent is that religions will have a new definition of marriage imposed upon them. Ironic given the perennial accusations that the Church faces with regards to imposing its beliefs upon others.
Weddings and Marriages
Where people, including some Catholic commentators and it would seem, the government, are getting confused is in the difference between weddings and marriages. When bemoaning civil partnerships, various Catholic blogs have posted photo after photo of civil partnership ceremonies in a bid to prove that these are de-facto marriages, perceived as marriages and therefore must be condemned. Likewise gay and lesbian campaigners have bemoaned their lack of opportunity for a wedding. The government have been genuinely taken aback by religious opposition, because they believed that the exemption would be enough to mollify any opposition, so long as churches were not forced to conduct wedding ceremonies, they would be fairly sanguine about the change.
A wedding is a ceremony – be that religious or civil. For us it was a Byrd four-part Mass and lashings of incense. For others it might be humanist vows on the top of a London bus. A wedding is the ceremony that legally and in some cases sacramentally, joins two parties together. Some of those in civil partnerships feel aggrieved that their official ceremony simply consists of signing a register and want the full “wedding”. Technically there is nothing to stop people from doing exactly what they want. Most tolerant people don’t really care. If a religious venue wants to be able to hold civil partnership ceremonies, then that should be their choice. I can’t quite see how this could be done in the Church of England or Catholic Church and I do also think that it does unhelpfully blur the margins between the two institutions, but if Sharon and Michelle both want to don enormous fluffy white meringues and get an obliging minister to formulate vows and/or prayers in the setting of their choice, providing the denomination permits it, then that should be their choice in a free and liberal society.
Whilst I’m on the subject, I’d also relax the daft restrictions upon choices of music and readings in civil ceremonies that forbid specific references to religious symbolism or worst still God. I mean, fancy making reference to God in a civil wedding – saint preserve us, what next the collapse of secularisation? If folk, whether heterosexual, lesbian or gay want to belt out jingoistic songs about the repression of mill workers in order to celebrate their partnership, if they want theologically unsound ballads by former boy band members then that is entirely their affair. You want “Angels” by Robbie or the local rugby club wants “I vow to thee my country”, go ahead – fill your boots!
A marriage is an institution, a legally and sometimes sacramentally recognised partnership in society. It is the permanent and binding union of a man and woman, that acts as building block of society, in order to create family units and raise children. Though the conditions surrounding marriage eligibility may have altered over the centuries, the basic premise has remained the same – one man, one woman for love, companionship but primarily for the procreation of children.
Well the Church can believe what it wants? What’s the problem.
It is impossible, not only for the Catholic Church but for several other denominations and religious to believe that marriage can be anything but one man, one woman. The problem is, that once this becomes legal, the Church will have no choice other than to accept the legal definition. One way of demonstrating this would be in the case of a person in a same sex marriage, which the Church did not recognise. If a person in a same sex marriage split up from their partner, found a partner of the opposite sex whom they then wished to marry, then in the Church’s eyes, they would be free to do so. Legally, however this would not be the case, unless that person had received a civil divorce. The Church’s feelings on the matter would cease to come into play here, if an Anglian vicar or a Catholic priest were to marry someone who was already in a same sex marriage, they would face charges of being complicit bigamy. Furthermore there is also a moral issue coming into play. What if the person had adopted or artificially created children whilst married to their same-sex partner and then committed “adultery”. Whilst the Church would recognise the same-sex marriage as being fornication (any sex outside traditional marriage comes under the adultery commandment), should it be complicit in sacramentally blessing an infidelity that split up a family unit and created turmoil for a child? Whilst this does not tend to happen in the Catholic Church, the Church of England, when considering whether or not to marry divorcees, tend to go by the rule that infidelities are not consecrated, even the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall had a blessing and not a marriage.
Of more pressing concern, there is a danger, that Church doctrine on marriage, could actually become “hate speech” and an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order offence, which states that
(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
All of us who have defended the status quo, have at some point been accused of insulting others, of homophobia, of prejudice, of hatred. What caused me enormous distress in the incident a few weeks ago, was that one man, who has yet to apologise made the following call for me to be “hunted down” and my intimate parts to be “filled with cement like God intended”. The reason that the man is quite so unrepentant about this, is because he feels that my attitude deserves this kind of threatening response. He feels victimised and threatened and therefore wants me to be at the receiving end of similar treatment in order to change my ways. Regular readers know that I tend to be fairly measured in my use of language. In fact, the whole furore resulted from a statement in which I admitted that the use of the word “disorder” was unacceptable and could cause offence and that we should not be comparing ourselves to primates.
A few months ago, a commentator stated that whilst it was acceptable for me to hold certain views, I should not be allowed to promalgate them in public. As mentioned above, various public figures have called for the prosecution of clerics who preach what they deem to be “homophobia” or “hate speech”. No matter how much Catholics or Christians may emphasise the pastoral care that should be directed towards the LGBT community and condemn any unjust discrimination, no matter how much we may state that no-one is defined purely by their sexual orientation, it is reductive, no matter how much we point out that homosexuality is no worse than heterosexual cohabitation, this is not what is heard. What is heard is hatred and discrimination, a desire to harm and punish, despite the fact that this is so counter to any Christian doctrine that I know. Part of this stems from decades of unjust treatment and from the fact that true homophobia does still exist, homophobic attacks do take place, although they are not as prevalent as other forms of crime. Same-sex marriage is not going to alter flawed human nature, it is not going to stop damaged individuals who wish to attack and destroy those who are different.
One of the accusations levelled at me was that I am a hardline religious fundamentalist, made dangerous by the fact that I cloak my “hatred in the garb of reasonableness and pretend to be a nice Catholic mother” when underneath this is all about wanting to punish, persecute and diminish people with same sex attraction. This has now become the popular meme of the gay marriage lobby. Anyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot fuelled by hatred and to prove it lets personally discredit them and/or their religion, if applicable.
This is what is going to happen to Catholic catechists and other religious instructors. It will be taboo and potentially against the law to teach religious doctrine, either in parishes and certainly in schools. If the law states that marriage is a romantic relationship between two people of any gender, then religious teaching will contravene the law. On the one level this is dangerous, because it forces religions to either conform or marginalise themselves. Of more pressing concern, as outlined above, it could be seen to contravene the public order act or the Equalities Act. Ministers of religion may be exempt, but ordinary members of the laity will not be. Catholic teaching could be held as being discriminatory.
Many of us have encountered opponents of faith schools claiming that faith has no place in education, which must be purely about “facts”. It is not hard to envisage a situation whereby the law compels children to be taught the secular definition of marriage, even though this would contravene religious and individual conscience rights. Children will be taught a new orthodoxy, namely that marriage is between two people of any gender who love each other.
The situation is untenable for the government as this definition of law contravenes Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which specifically provides a right for men and woman of marriageable age to marry and provide a family. Despite a number of petitions the Court has refused to apply the conventions to same sex marriage. The law in England and Wales will therefore contravene the ECHR, which may well create problems which will no doubt be resolved by a series of messy court cases, involving Public Order offences, the Equalities Act, the ECHR and UN Declaration on Human Rights, which expressly allows manifestation of religious freedom of expression.
Today John Sentamu has highlighted the problem of the 1662 Prayer Book and Article 30 of the Church of England which both require the approval of the General Synod before they can be changed. Though Parliament could overrule this, it would require disestablishment of Church and State, which whilst the National Secular Society, with their membership equalling the National Sausage Appreciation society would applaud, it is really a worthwhile and necessary use of valuable Parliamentary and legislative time, when the country is facing an unprecedented global economic crisis? When the country is facing a welter of social and economic problems, unseen for decades, is it really helpful to be spending huge amounts of time and resources, tinkering around with something that has the potentially to radically alter society, a unique social experiment that goes against thousands of years of biology and sociology, to satisfy the demands of less than 1% of the community. The grassroots gay lobby have not campaigned for this, 70% of the population are against the redefinition of marriage according to the Com Res poll commissioned by Catholic Voices and 74% of people believing that it is wrong to fast-track these laws according to an ICM poll for the Daily Telegraph. Make no mistake, disestablishment could prove extraordinarily complicated, impacting upon how Parliament, the monarchy and even the armed forces interrelate. We would be unpicking the strands that constitute English society.
Thirsty Gargoyle has promised to blog the specifics of the legal implications, his razor-sharp analyses is second to none, but in short, this whole thing is something of a beggar’s muddle.
If you don’t want a gay marriage – don’t have one!
This sends me reaching for my self-disembowelling kit. That’s like saying, if you don’t like drink-driving, don’t drink and drive. The problem is that same-sex marriage will be imposed on me, whether I like it or not. It may not have a direct impact on my marriage, although it will certainly change the definition of my marriage, it will almost certain impact on my children and future generations who will be encouraged by society to think of marriage purely in terms of romantic commitment and thus bail out when it goes wrong.
Myself, my children and future generations will now be forced to be guarded in their thoughts and opinions if they are against gay marriage and risk prosecution or employment discrimination. The love of God – the love that dare not speak it’s name.
What about the children? Hiding behind an excuse?
Though there are exceptions, evidence overwhelmingly suggests that children do best when raised in stable relationships by both biological parents. That is not to denigrate the job that single parents, adoptive parents, gay parents, step-parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and others do in often very demanding circumstances, but all the evidence suggests that the ideal of two biological parents is the one to which we should aspire.
Whilst non-biological parents do a marvellous and commendable job, the task is undoubtedly easier in a stable low conflict relationship. This is what marriage recognises, namely that every child deserves its two biological parents. There is no question of banning alternative arrangements, but equally it is not prejudiced or discriminatory to recognise that the purpose of marriage is to raise children. Society needs to aspire to ideals.
Discrimination of this nature surrounds us all the time and is deemed to be perfectly acceptable – couples over 45 are not accepted for IVF for example and family members are not allowed to enter into marriage. Though many find the comparison with incest, understandably offensive, the incest rule underlines the very purpose of marriage. By stripping out the procreative element of marriage, the government makes it purely about romantic relationships. If marriage is purely about romantic relationships, why should it be accorded any special legal or tax status or recognition. Why are romantic relationships more important than any other relationships, such as family relationships, friendships or relationships between carers, for example?
Do children really need two biological parents? The really polemic bit
The evidence suggests that yes they do, this is the ideal. There is something primordial about the bond between parent and child that is very difficult to define or artificially recreate. My family is broken, my daughter lives with myself and her step-father, but it is precisely because I recognise the importance of the relationship between her and her biological father and his family, not only for her, but also her father, that over the years we have all worked extremely hard to keep relations extremely cordial, pleasant, friendly and above-all open and honest. Fortunately there is no conflict, but despite having the almost “ideal” situation, it is still not ideal for her. It is better than it could otherwise have been, it is better than the alternative, but the ideal for her would have been for her biological parents to stay together in a low conflict stable relationship.
Whilst her stepfather adores her and has done so since the moment they met, having gone on to have two biological children of his own, he admits that there is something undefinable about biology. Whilst he loves them all identically, there is an instinctive biological closeness from the very beginning with his natural offspring, that whilst not affecting the quality of his relationship with his older daughter, is perhaps missing. The same could be said of my daughter. She loves her dad enormously, but he is not “daddy”. The outcome for my daughter, will hopefully be good, because we have other factors in our favour to compensate.
What same-sex marriage does is to put same sex relationships on the same footing as heterosexual ones. Sound the prejudice klaxon. Stonewall can probably scent blood. Most reasonable and tolerant people have no problem with this in terms of equal civil rights. But a child is not a civil right. Gay relationships are naturally unable to produce children. There is no escaping this fact. For a gay couple to produce a child, they either need to adopt or artificially reproduce and increasingly couples seem to be plumping for the latter – sexuality is no bar to the often overwhelming natural urge to have one’s own biological children.
Gay couples argue that this is the only way that they are able to have children and that it is discriminatory to “deny them their rights to children on the basis of sexuality. It is homophobic”. Discrimination in its modern sense is unfair. What is more fair? That a child has an opportunity to be born from the natural procreative act of its parents and to be brought up by both of its biological parents, or that a child is deliberately denied its rights to a biological parent in favour of the rights of its other biological parent? All of us have an innate sense of identity, we want to know who we are, how we fit into the world and where we are from. Our biological and cultural roots are tremendously important. Adoptive couples are given intensive and specialist support in terms of dealing with adoptees’ identity issues as they grow up. It is recognised that adoptive parents potentially have a rockier road in terms of parenting than biological parenting.
Yet all of this, the rights and needs of the child are swept away in favour of the needs of the parent. At the moment due to the costs of artificially creating children, this option is only open to monied or middle-class gay couples, therefore it can be argued that the children’s outcomes will be similar. Whilst this is yet to be proven, what does come into play is the rather disturbing notion that at least the child is wanted, loved and can be materially well-provided for. These are all good things, but it implies that children are only worthwhile if they are desperately, wanted, loved and have material things. Better the middle-class gay couple going for IVF, than say, the single-mother on the rough housing estate. It perpetuates inequality and puts a value upon human life. It takes no account of the needs of the child for its biological mother and father and sends out the message, a child doesn’t need a mother and a father, gender is unimportant.
This is the heart of the objection to same-sex marriage. It says gender and biology are irrelevant when it comes to children. What they need is loving parenting. A child does not need a mother and a father. It just needs an adult (s) to love it. This runs counter to thousands of years of biology. Two dads cannot be a mum. They cannot breastfeed, neither of them have carried the baby in the womb for 9 months, the person whose every intonation of voice the baby has heard for nine months, their smell, their heartbeat, the person to whom they have been a part of, is cruelly and intentionally taken away from them. Bonding and attachment happen instinctively between mothers and babies. When all of my children were newborn and crying, just the act of picking them up or lying them on my chest was enough to calm and settle them. My babies knew it was me and were happy. Mothers are a baby’s entire world. It is an undisputed fact that babies need their mothers and should only be removed in the direst of emergencies and circumstances. Mothers are pre-progammed biologically respond to their crying babies and infants. It is instinctive, intuitive, not learned behaviour.
Whilst Lesbian couples may be at more of an advantage biologically, there is still overwhelming evidence that children ideally need to be parented by both genders as though equal, male and female are undeniably different. Male and female are complementary, both with strengths and weaknesses. Children need to be exposed at close quarters to the behaviour of both genders. Research indicates that fathers help to reduce delinquency in teenage sons and daughters who have a positive relationship with their father are more likely to establish good relationships with males as adults. All recent studies to the contrary which attempt to portray gender as irrelevant such as Gartrell/Bos and Biblarz/ Stacey have been shown to be significantly flawed in terms of methodology and therefore their conclusions are highly suspect.
What about older or infertile couples – aren’t they married then?
The age and/or fertility status of a couple is irrelevant, it does not change the purpose of marriage which is complementary and ordered towards having children. A couple will marry and age, meaning that they will no longer be able to produce children. Age does not dissolve the legality of the marriage therefore it follows that older couples are not disbarred from entering into marriage. Although they may not be able to have children of their own, they may still be able to adopt, or they may end up rearing grandchildren. It is the complementarity that is at stake, which is why the same applies to infertile couples. The marriage is not legally altered by any intention not to procreate, but it brings us back to the issue of why marriage is elevated by society.
More equal than others?
Two same genedered people in a relationship is not the same as two different gendered people in a relationship. One set will not be able to biologically produce children. Provided there are no underlying fertility problems, the other set will. This is an inescapable reality and why society has been ordered along the lines of biology for thousands of years. Marriage exists to ensure that children have mothers and fathers.
Recognising biological differences in couples is neither discriminatory, prejudiced or bigoted. Bigotry is imposing your will upon other people and refusing to tolerate legitimate divergence of opinion. Such as criminalising those who can not accept that same sex relationships can be a marriage, or that marriage is able to be redefined. Or deciding on the basis of no evidence that a child does not need a mother and a father and deliberating contriving a situation that removes the biological parent to satisfy personal desires. Bigotry is inciting violence and hatred against people on the basis of their opinions and/or faith. Prejudice is pre-supposing motives and intentions.
Inequality in its modern sense, means to treat people in an unfair way. LGBT couples are not being treated unfairly. They are not being denied any civil or human rights. Any perceived “inequality” results from a biological reality. Only different gendered couples can produce children. Children need their biological mothers and fathers. No amount of legislation or semantics can change those realities. Sometimes life just isn’t “fair.”
The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal – Aristotle.
No doubt, Christians will be accused once again of playing the pity game, but can it really be argued that we have true freedom of speech in this country?
For those who might claim that Mr Smith is not being persecuted for his beliefs in the same way as someone like Pastor Nadarkhani, although his life might not be literally in the balance, this case is extremely chilling. What can be more disempowering or de-humanising than to restrict someone’s ability to work and earn money? Mr Smith is being punished, not because he has done anything wrong; he has broken no law, he has not engaged in bullying, he has simply expressed a point of view, one that he is perfectly entitled to hold.
To some extent, Mr Smith’s Christianity is an irrelevance. He should be perfectly able to express whatever views he likes, no matter how offensive other people might find them, and frankly, you’d have to be pushing it to take issue at his words. They are perfectly logical and contain no malice. Mr Smith was not attacking individuals, he was not extending hate, he was simply expressing an opinion about how the law should be applied. He has broken no law and yet his employers are seeking to punish him for having a point of view which a thin-skinned colleague found offensive.
Earlier this week, I was musing whether or not certain internet ‘personalities’ with thousands of followers bear an additional responsibility in terms of what they express on the internet. The answer was ‘no’. Even though they may write the most irresponsible and offensive garbage, which often gets picked up and repeated verbatim en masse by sheep-like followers who believe that someone’s status automatically lends them an air of authority, we cannot be held responsible for other people’s reactions to our words, so long as we are not inciting criminal acts.
Literary theorists will be familiar with Barthes’ convention of “death of the author”. Whenever something is committed to writing, there is an extent to which authorial intention has no impact upon how that text will be interpreted. We cannot be responsible for every single possible interpretation of our words, and though it might be prudent to avoid causing deliberate offence in work or social situations, we cannot be so frightened that our views may be the cause of undue offence and thus our undoing, that we stay silent.
My husband tells me that he refuses to talk about any moral issues at work for the very reason he is too scared that if he were to engage on any of these issues, it could lose him his job. Though its perfectly legitimate for a ‘professional’ religious person, like a priest or vicar to discuss moral issues in the course of their work or ministry, heaven help anyone else who might have a view.
Having a job now means that not only must one avoiding discussing these topics at the workplace, but what is far more sinister, you can no longer express them publicly from the comfort of your own home. An employer not only has a duty to ensure that their employees are capable and qualified to do the work for which they are paid, but that they must also conform to the norms of “right thinking” and never say anything that might offend anybody; even when they are not on company time or premises or acting for their employer in any way.
Whilst Christians are not being persecuted for their faith, it is the nature of our beliefs that is causing us to come into increasing conflict with the militant secularist agenda. Not wishing to endorse a certain lifestyle does not indicate a desire to persecute those who follow that lifestyle, which is what people on all sides seem to be having difficulty getting to grips with. Sometimes people say things with which you will disagree or find offensive. That is your right, just as it is your right to express annoyance or irritation at perceived injustices or sleights. Just because someone might find something that you have said offensive, doesn’t mean that you have no right to say it, or should be prevented from doing so, as long as you refrain from defamation or slander that can cause palpable damage.
I wonder whether or not Mr Smith would still have faced a disciplinary had he stated “Fat people should go on a diet or face more tax”? What was so offensive or wrong about his particular statement vis a vis gay marriage, that meant that he and his family should be punished?
When a personal view, whatever that might be, particularly one that has been politely and inoffensively expressed, jeopardises someone’s job, causes them to be demoted and lose a sizeable chunk of their income, we should all start to worry.