Becoming like children

A friend suggested that I download the excellent unspoken sermons of George McDonald the other night, when I was casting about for recommendations for free reading material of a political, historical and theological bent.

The first chapter is entitled Child in our midst, and is a reflection of Mark 9: 33-37, and the relationship of the child-like and the divine.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when briefly discussing the result of the Parliamentary vote with my daughter, who it seems had been engaged in conversation at school. Though my initial reaction was horror, I guess to some extent the playground is a microcosm of the adult world, the school admits pupils to the age of 13, we live in liberal Brighton and one can hardly be surprised if things have filtered down.

Our daughter doesn’t know about sex, but she does know the biology behind reproduction, i.e. that when men and women get married, they can then have a ‘special cuddle’ (yes it’s twee, you try explaining it to a then 6-7 year old) whereby the man gives the woman a sperm which fertilises her egg etc. The subject arose when she asked how the babies were getting into mummy’s tummy, I don’t hold with lying to children, nonsense euphemisms about gooseberry bushes and storks just confuse children, hence we told her the truth in an age appropriate way. She was more than satisfied by the response, no special books or silly furtiveness was required, but we did show her some pictures of what the baby looked like in the womb at certain stages during my pregnancies, which she enjoyed. (Pro-lifers take note).

I was told what homosexuality was at the same age in Year 4. Looking back it was a scream. The ernest and stern Mr Sutton, headmaster of our interesting and eclectic prep school (consisting mainly of the children of farmers in the backwaters of the Dengie hundred) decided that as an experiment he would personally supervise sex education lessons for the fourth form. We were given blue workbooks with diagrams of the male and female organs in cross section as well as a couple in flagrante, so to speak. It looked a ghastly, painful and disgusting business to my mind. There was no way I was ever going to do that – ever! To the great amusement and perhaps relief of my parents, I coloured the male member in green and red diagonal stripes resembling a barber’s shop pole, for reasons best beknown to myself.

I remember distinctly Mr Sutton explaining what ‘gay’ was, that it meant two women or two men had fallen in love with each other, we might read about it in the paper and that it absolutely wasn’t funny, these people couldn’t help it and we mustn’t laugh about it or make fun of those who were gay. Anyone who did would be in trouble, whereupon the bell rang for playtime and Damian Jones proceeded to call everyone a “gaylord”, as a change from the previously preferred insult of choice – “Joey”.

Which kind of brings me to the point. Bullying and name calling sadly will always occur at school, although it should always be given zero tolerance when uncovered. I remember being grieved when Jennifer Holland Brown, cheeky upstart in the third year accused me of being a lesbian because I’d accidentally kicked her leg in the swimming pool, whereupon all her friends joined in. It lasted 10 minutes if that, but these days there would be scores of counsellors telling me ‘its fine to be a lesbian, you should celebrate that’ and reporting her parents for installing homophobia, whereas actually kids can be rather horrible to each other at times. I was irritated by the sheer cheek of a younger girl as well as peeved by the untruth because I knew that I most definitely wasn’t a lesbian! Calling people out for being supposedly different, whether true or false has happened and will happen in schools since time immemorial. Nobody’s race, faith (and it was the fish wearing Christians at my sixth form who got the grief) sexuality, hair colour, weight, appearance or family life and standard of living should be used to single them out, but sadly it does happen and schools need to do what they can to ensure it isn’t ignored or tolerated which includes punishing offenders. Enacting the gay marriage bill in the name of stamping out homophobic attitudes is a panacea.

But back to George McDonald and becoming like a child, here was my 8 year old’s response.

“Two men and two women? That’s just silly. But that would mean two sperms and two eggs? How would they have babies”.

It was gently explained to her that men and women sometimes did develop feelings for each other.

“But if everyone did that we wouldn’t have any more babies and then what would happen?”

But I suppose to explain it is unusual, is homophobic?!

As George McDonald says:

“God is represented in Jesus, for that God is like Jesus: Jesus is represented in the child, for that Jesus is like the child. Therefore God is represented in the child, for that he is like the child. God is child-like. In the true vision of this fact lies the receiving of God in the child.”

We forget that God is child-like at our peril. The most absurd thing I think I saw yesterday was this clip from Channel 4, with a gay man explaining with child-like simplicity how a gay couple could now be married in the eyes of God. Because God was clearly waiting for the Parliamentary result to change his opinion.

Suffer the little children.

Strength in weakness

One of the many unfortunate things about the rushed nature of the Equal Marriage Bill is that it has raised the political temperature on the issue to almost boiling point with both sides scrambling to have their voices heard whilst there is still a chance that political opinion may be influenced.

One thing that is very saddening is the way that the issue seems to have caused so much hate and division, with those in favour of the redefinition of marriage flinging unprecedented amounts of spite towards those of us who wish to defend the status quo – recognising that the already weakened link between marriage and family, should not be irreparably severed. This concern stems not from a sense of bigotry or contempt or wish to marginalise those with same-sex attraction but genuinely from a wish to protect future generations and our unborn. Every child has the right to be brought up in a stable loving, sexually exclusive relationship and to enjoy a close bond with both of their biological parents. Last night on Twitter, Conor Burns the openly gay Tory MP received a huge amount of unsolicited abuse , for not having yet made up his mind and the MP David Burrows has been in receipt of death threats. Clearly there is much reconciliation and healing that needs to occur.

I received a particularly poisonous comment about my own personal circumstances containing a choice piece of invective and attempting to goad me into disclosing information which would have been detrimental to one of my children. As someone who has a child who does not live with both of her biological parents, I can testify to the emotional difficulties involved for children who come from broken families and I can stress the importance of allowing a child to develop a close, loving and strong bond with both biological parents and their families. That someone felt so threatened as to attempt to find out personal details – I have had several searches on my blog over the past week with rather alarming search terms, really demonstrates the depths to which some will sink, in order to try to get their own way and shows that the defence of marriage lies in truth and reason, lies smears and insults are based in fear and demonstrate that someone has really run out of ideas.

Most of us, myself included, are heartily tired of having to endlessly debate this, but we have no choice other than to fight for something that is being taken away, not only from us, but from our children and the generations of children to come. In order for one group to be given something, it needs to be taken away from someone else and what is being taken is not only the link between marriage and children, but also our religious freedoms, in that life is going to be made untenable for those who do not believe that marriage can constitute anything other than a union between one man and one woman, especially those in the public sector.

The think-tank Respublica have today produced this excellent Green Paper which details why this bill is such a monumentally unsound piece of legislation – their arguments and logic are flawless. Catholics will disagree with the conclusion, we would dispute their notion of teleology for a Christian with same-sex attraction, but it is a sound piece of work, with some solid insights, not least in terms of the anthropological origins of marriage. The reason contained therein makes it impossible for detractors to apply the homophobia label with any integrity.

I touched before on how, under this bill, there will still be disparity between heterosexual and homosexual marriages, in that the concepts of adultery and consummation will not apply to the latter. Once again, the blogger Gentlemind has a detailed explanation as to the implicit legal fiction, not invoking any concept of a deity. As has been said from the beginning, neither religion, nor the state has the monopoly on marriage, whilst we as Christians believe that it was instituted from God as a gift to his people, from the creation of the world, we do not force or impose this view upon other people, whilst ironically it is the state who is imposing its new definition upon us.

The one question that nobody dare ask, the elephant in the room so to speak, is that marriage traditionally encompasses sexually fidelity for reasons of procreation, so that children may be legitimately recognised as well as brought up with stability, even though undoubtedly many couples have been unfaithful, but this has always been stigmatised with good reason. The current tendency to blame both partners when one strays, in an attempt to be non-judgemental and balanced, is whilst perhaps based in some truth, a misguided one. No matter how tiresome one’s spouse may prove at times, one has made a promise of love and fidelity especially if one is married in the Christian tradition. That’s why marriage is sometimes difficult. It’s not about being in love at the time of professing vows, but about promising to love until the end of one’s lives. Love often requires an act of will, it’s not purely an impulsive or romantic feeling, something that one has to remember when one’s spouse has left the loo seat up for the umpteenth time. We should not seek to excuse those who are unable to exercise sexual restraint. To cheat on one’s partner takes an act of will, one’s clothes simply do not fall off of their own accord and our body does not act independently of the mind.

So why is gay marriage devoid of this promise of fidelity in that a couple may not divorce due to adultery, which cannot exist? As a gay couple cannot technically consummate a marriage, does that mean that legally gay marriages are presumed to be devoid of sexual content, unlike heterosexual marriages? Straight couples are being called to higher sexual standards than homosexual couples, whose sex life is legally non-existent and unlike heterosexual couples cannot use a partner’s infidelity to split up the marriage. When a couple divorces on the ubiquitous grounds of unreasonable behaviour – at least five different examples must be given that would satisfy a judge. Does that mean that unlike a straight couple, a gay person will have to find five different provable instances of infidelity to petition for divorce? And what are we saying about the importance of sexual fidelity – does it only matter for heterosexual marriages? Is that fair? Is it equal? Or is there something unsavoury about removing the element of faithfulness in ‘gay marriages’? What message does that send and could it pave the way for further changes such as removing adultery as grounds for divorce in all marriages?

So, gay marriages may nominally satisfy the demands of equality, but they are still as different as civil partnerships. What a legacy for David Cameron – the man who promised to bring in tax breaks to support married couples and denied days before the election that he had any plans to introduce this legislation. Weakening in the name of strength.

I guess the one silver lining is that maybe this whole dog’s breakfast may actually start to do something to reinforce the already weakened bonds of marriage. Maybe people’s minds will be focused on what the true meaning of marriage is really about and churches may well be galvanised into proclaiming the goodness and fruits of marriage like never before. Maybe we will be able to reclaim Holy Matrimony for ourselves in all of its abundant richness.

Leo XIII and legal fiction

A propos of nothing, I was re-reading my way through arguably one of the Church’s finest pieces of social teaching, Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical Rerum Novarum when the following passage, perhaps providentially jumped out. It  answers much of the argument amongst Christians, not only as to whether or not ‘gay marriage’ is permissible, but also addresses the concerns of those who believe that by stressing family as being the purpose of marriage, apologists and defenders are perhaps being utilitarian and not Christian in approach.

In choosing a state of life, it is indisputable that all are at full liberty to follow the counsel of Jesus Christ as to observing virginity, or to bind themselves by the marriage tie. No human law can abolish the natural and original right of marriage, nor in any way limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage ordained by God’s authority from the beginning: “Increase and multiply.”(Genesis 1:28) Hence we have the family, the “society” of a man’s house – a society very small, one must admit, but none the less a true society, and one older than any State. Consequently, it has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State. 

Also whilst we’re on the subject, a blogger known as ‘gentlemind’ has posted a wonderful Q&A demonstrating how marriage exists to bind procreation to parenting. Crucially:

The cost of inventing the legal fiction of same-sex marriage is that we will have to legally pretend that parents and children are not physically related. That is what happens when we seek to legally redefine nature: nature legally disappears.

Alliance Francaise

More than 100,00 people on the streets at the demonstration in Paris on 17th November
More than 100,00 people on the streets at the demonstration in Paris on 17th November

There is an excellent blogpost on the new Catholic Voices media blog, which states we have much to learn from the example of the French in our defence of marriage. The French bishops have successfully managed to keep the frame away from homosexuality (how many people realise that the Church favours the decriminalisation of homosexual acts) and have instead kept the focus upon the conjugal meaning of marriage and the welfare of children.

The French Church has managed to build a broad civil alliance against same-sex marriage, including various gay and atheist activists. The movement is called Manif pour Tous, which according to Le Figaro, includes “La Socialo, La Catho et l’homo.”

There is a rally taking place in Paris on Sunday, which has a predicted turn-out of at least half a million people – a rally  ‘for marriage’ and ‘against homophobia’.

Against this backdrop, in a decision which could have implications for religious freedom across Europe, France’s education minister, Vincent Peillon, has written a controversial letter warning Catholic schools not to engage in any discussion about this issue with their students, after Eric de Labarre, secretary general of France’s Catholic  schools had sent a letter to France’s 8,300 schools, urging just the opposite! The socialist President, Francois Hollande has weighed in on the side of his education minister and thus French Catholic schools (which are private) are barred from discussing the issue at all, unlike state institutions.

In the meantime, rumour has it that the ‘Equal Marriage’ Bill is coming before Parliament for its first vote (second reading) on 28 January.

La Manif pour Tous, has invited supporters of traditional marriage to join with them in solidarity and make their feelings known in London, this Sunday at the same time as the Paris rally. Meet in front of the French embassy, 58 Knightsbridge, from midday.

Catholics could make a day of it and go on from there to Southwark Cathedral where the relics of St Don Bosco can be venerated between 3.30pm and 5.30pm with the Mass at 6pm.

Put on your dancing shoes…