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.

Beads and bigots

When I’m Queen of the Universe, I will issue a decree making incorrect use of language a criminal offence. It goes without saying that erroneous use of the terms

homophobia and bigot will carry the largest penalties.

We’ve done the homophobia one countless times, but just to recap for those hard of understanding, homophobia is defined by the OED as “an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people”.

Whilst I am undoubtedly guilty of what Mark Simpson would term the fetishisation of marriage, that doesn’t stem from any aversion, let alone of an extreme or irrational nature. It’s fascinating that in order to qualify as a bona fide homophobe, one’s aversion must be “extreme or irrational”. Common or garden “homosexual sex is a bit ick” wouldn’t seem to cut it according to the OED. I don’t think that there is anything inherently “homophobic” about being averse to sexual acts between same gendered partners. Several friends with same sex attraction have confessed to me that the idea of sex with a differently gendered person revolts or turns them off, the concept being utterly unthinkable. It’s not an irrational feeling in their eyes, it’s simply “the way they are” therefore it is entirely logical that people may well be repelled by the idea of same gendered sex in a similar vein, without necessarily being “homophobic”.

As I’ve said right since the inception of this blog, homophobia or homophobic is simply a perjorative smear, designed to discredit and close down any sensible debate. Much easier to infer that someone is an unpleasant or unsavoury character who should not be given any credence rather than engage directly with the issue. The word has been used so often that it’s now meaningless.

I’ve deliberately avoided discussing the gay marriage issue in theological terms for a few reasons. Firstly, most Christian readers don’t need them explained and secondly, given that for some inexplicable reason I seem to have picked up quite a large following of non-Christians, I don’t think that the Church (Roman Catholic or Anglican) has the monopoly on marriage. I’ve wanted to steer away from the whole “well Christians can have their version and we can have ours” line.

The point is this. Marriage is a public institution that transcends and pre-dates Church and State, neither of whom have the monopoly on it or the power to change it. As marriage is a public institution, proposals that could negatively affect or harm it should be given the same kind of objective analysis as any other issue of public policy. It’s not simply a matter of “fairness” or “forcing religious dogma down people’s throats”. This is why I’ve discussed the issue in broad terms, redefining marriage will have a huge impact upon society.

I was therefore disappointed to note the following comment directed at me on Facebook. “For G-d’s sake, people aren’t still losing sleep about gay marriage are they? Stop rattling your beads in my face. Your backward views should be kept to yourself”. It goes without saying that it garnered several “likes”, no doubt validating the author’s sense of worth and popularity amongst her peers.

I am often accused of homophobia, and “hiding behind the dictionary definition” of the word if I can be bothered to refute it. Apparently it’s quite “lame”. To me the dictionary is important as it defines the common consensus and meaning of a word. Otherwise we all become like Humpty Dumpty and language loses its potency as has indeed happened with homophobia. What is lame is giving someone a perjorative label based on an incorrect and lazy character assumption, or a generalisation. You don’t want gay marriage, it must be because you either hate gays, you are stupid and most definitely because you are religious.

As invective goes it wasn’t particularly powerful, but there are slightly sinister undertones of “anyone who disagrees with me is irrational and stupid and has no right to speak, they must be silent”. I enjoyed the wild imaginings, at no stage were beads rattled in anyone’s faces – bead rattling seems to be becoming quite a common conceit. I can’t say it bothers me really, although I don’t so much rattle the beads, it’s more of a thoughtful fingering, a rolling between one’s thumb and forefinger, but I suspect the subtleties of the rosary are of little interest and not as evocative of the image of a fervent believer in the throes of religious ecstasy feverishly thrusting a rosary into someone’s face.

The delicious irony is that as Cranmer’s Law testifies, people who believe themselves to be of a liberal or permissive bent, love to bandy the word bigot about, when clearly they have absolutely no idea what it means.

I’ll clarify.

“an obstinate belief in the superiority of one’s own opinions and a prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others”.

Well most of us tend to have some sort of belief that our moral code is the right one, even if that moral code leans towards relativism.

A prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others? How would that be manifested? Presumably by telling others that they should keep their opinions to themselves? Or calling other’s opinions nasty and stupid? Of course those sentiments may be thought to be justified, but the irony is that by telling someone that they should either shut up, or are a “nasty stupid bigot”, betrays a bigotry all of its very own.

All human beings are bigots but some bigotry is better than others.

Homophobic persecution

This post is written much later than I would have wished, due to my baby having been unwell with swine flu. I have debated whether or not to write this, given the furore has died down, and inevitably some conflict will be reignited but I would like the following to be said and out in the open.

I am a regular contributor to a debate forum on a parenting website. Predictably enough someone raised the issue of whether or not Elton John was too old to adopt. There was a lot of consensus agreeing that this was not an ideal arrangement due to his age and other issues, many of which have been picked up on by the media. I contributed my view, namely that 63 was too old to be fathering a young baby. I will elucidate further in a later post, why this whole arrangement disturbs me, but in terms of the original question, “were they too old”, my answer was an unequivocal “yes”.

Unlike other posters however, my concerns were seized on as being that old bugbear, namely homophobic. When I queried as to why I was perceived as homophobic, as opposed to everyone else who had expressed the same view, this was because I have previously expressed reservations about same-sex couples adopting. In addition, as a Catholic, I am a de-facto homophobe.

This is more than a little disturbing and not only for Catholics. There are plenty of valid reasons as to why one may feel that a differently gendered household is a better environment for children to grow up in, than a single-sex one, and none of them are based upon homophobia, which just to recap, is defined as an “irrational fear or hatred” towards gay people. I was asked to prove why I held these beliefs, studies were bandied about attempting to prove that outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents were no more negative than for children raised in other situations, however, none of the studies compared children from sex-same parents with children from different gender parents in stable relationships. Furthermore, the absence of “harm” does not render something “good” and therefore to be embraced.

My reservations about same-sex adoptions and surrogacy are rooted in something a lot more substantial than an irrational or illogical aversion to homosexual acts, but because I have publicly gone on record that I subscribe to the Catholic Church’s view that homosexual acts are sinful, this means that I wish to discriminate against gay people and deny them their “rights to procreate”. Furthermore “If you think gay sex is sinful, then presumably you categorise all practising gays as sinners. And that’s not homophobic?” Leaving aside the issues of whether or not procreation is a basic right and discussing Christian attitudes to homosexuality, which I will explore in later posts, it is of vital importance to debunk this whole homophobic labelling myth of those who do not wish to endorse same-sex adoption/surrogacy.

Why does this matter? Well firstly the label “homophobic” is used pejoratively, as way of insulting and smearing those whose views are not in accordance with one’s own. In many ways it has lost much of its potency due to the way it is bandied around as a generic label. To accuse someone of homophobia is on a par with accusing them of racism, anti-Semitism or any other form of intolerance. It infers that their opinions are purely visceral, not based on logic or reason and they stem from an inherent hatred, dislike or fear. An assertion that an act is sinful, i.e. that it separates you from God, is not indicative of any aversion to a group of individuals. As the word has so many negative connotations, it can be used as a weapon to confuse and befuddle any debate and denigrate any valid objections. You may simply be written off as an idiot, someone whose opinions are rooted in hate and fear. The word bullies and attempts to close down debate as well as humiliate and insult. Anyone remember “bigot-gate” which sealed public opinion of Gordon Brown?

I am not prepared to be associated with the likes of the BNP and nor, I suspect are the majority of Catholics. I am not prepared to stay silent because I am frightened of the usual incorrect accusations of homophobia. If we stay silent, because of the chorus of  intolerance and vilification employed against us by virtue of the fact of our Catholic views, then how on earth can we expect to be heard and to have a voice in society? If we accept this incorrect labelling, then we accept that our views are irrelevant, illogical and based on a distorted interpretation of the Creed. As Catholics and Christians, a belief that homosexual acts may imperil a soul (along with many other sins, both sexual and non-sexual) is not based on hatred, but based on love. Let me be clear, I have absolutely no interest in making homosexuality or homosexual acts illegal. I am quite libertarian in that respect. I do not believe that the state should legislate to enforce personal morality. What people chose to do with their genitalia is no concern of mine, so long as it is in private and involves other consenting adults. I do not seek to criminalize those with same-sex inclinations or those who act upon them, which would be a wholly counter-productive approach and not one rooted in compassion or understanding. In the same way, I do not wish to criminalize those who engage in sex outside of marriage, another sexual sin. Sexual sin, is simply another type of sin, something that alienates us from God and ultimately something that hurts ourselves. People need to form their own morality on these issues, hopefully based on Catholic/Christian ethics and an informed understanding of the teachings of Christ. No government or individual can enforce purity of heart. That has to come from within, we have to act out of caritas, not out of enforced legal compulsion, which does nothing to increase our desire for God.

To employ a cliche, I have plenty of gay friends, both practicing and celibate. How can I reconcile this with my views of sinfulness? Well, I also have friends who are not in what the Church would describe as regular marital relationships. I don’t say to people “Oh, you sexual sinner, I’m not going to engage with you, I’m not going to offer you any hospitality because you are clearly manifesting your sins”. I am not in a position to judge the state of people’s souls nor compare them to mine. They may well be guilty of sexual sin, but I am guilty of sin as much as they and thus I cannot be Pharisaical about this. All I can ever do, is discuss the issue if it comes up, gently point out that how this is against Christian teaching and leave it at that. It’s not about judgement or condemnation but about love. It’s about saying, “look, I don’t think this is how Christ wishes you to live”, but if someone is not a Christian, then its a moot argument. Gentle apologetics is the way to go, not preaching bile and hatred; I have no time for the evangelicals who wish to march about with banners of condemnation, whipping up confrontation and reinforcing public opinion of Christians as bigots. I am not a priest, I have no responsibility for the cure of souls, but that doesn’t mean that I should stay silent out of fear of condemnation, whilst at the same time, it is not for me to tell people what they should do. All I can ever do is voice my feelings on the matter.

So, why bother being so defensive about this issue, why bother attempting to prove that I, and Catholics and Christians like me, are not homophobic, why not simply accept that this is what other people will invariably think if we speak up? Because to accept the label is to accept the accusation, to accept that our views are rooted in hatred, fear and aversion and not out of love or concern. To accept the label, is to let other people’s bigotry dominate the debate about what kind of society we wish to live in and to accept that children are some sort of commodity or right, out of fear of being called a name. To accept it, accepts our own marginalisation. To ignore it, feeds the claims of those who would claim that Christians are being increasingly persecuted in the UK. We cannot simply accept that we are going to be a persecuted minority and if we look at this sensibly, Christians, are not persecuted in this country by any sensible definition of the word. We are not martyrs, our government does not ask us to choose between our faith and our lives, although we may feel our freedom of speech is restricted. We buy into this persecution mentality and we fuel further accusations of misguided delusion.

Of course, another choice is to refuse to engage with mainstream debate, to stick with communities of other Catholics and Christians. In many ways this is advisable, we are all the body of Christ, and certainly I tend to stick to Catholic forums and blogs if I am looking for sensible informed commentary instead of misinformed rantings. But actually, I also want to participate in and engage with discussions with non-Christians. Partly so that my voice can be heard and partly to dispel some myths, engage in apologetics and partly because I want don’t want to limit my sphere to the purely theological. I want to be able to talk about parenting and current affairs as well as the magisterium. If hearts and minds can be swayed, if we are to be able to spread the word, then we need to enter into discourse with non-Christians, although there does come a point whereby one has to accept that people do not want to listen with open hearts or minds.

There are plenty of people who have written to me and said “look I don’t agree with your Christian views, but you know what I do agree with your views on Elton John, I really admire you for sticking to your guns and speaking your mind.”

I am not going to be marginalised, hectored or shouted down, nor accept my views as being a product of brainwashing, vitriol or hatred. It’s a tired technique used by those who wish to close down an argument and claim a moral superiority and relegate opposition to being unreasonable, extreme and dangerous.

This labelling of our opposition proves Mark Shea’s comment “tolerance is not enough. You must approve”.

To invoke the over-used Godwin’s law, I also see parallels in this insistence upon a label and dangers in a passive acceptance. “You are a homophobe, accept it wear the label, we don’t want to cause you any harm, you are entitled to your views, you just have to accept our definition of what they are and what they mean”. Wear the star, accept the label, you are a perfidious Jew, but don’t worry, we don’t want to hurt you. This is why these misconceptions must be addressed and challenged by use of reason and apologetics, wheresoever they are encountered, instead of a sigh and a shake of the head. And that applies to anyone who baulks at the notion that they are homophobe, because they do not consent to two old men effectively buying a baby.

Evan Davis supports Chris Grayling

So Evan Davis, who is gay, advocates the right of  proprietors to turn away a gay couple from their B&B.

So does this mean both Evan Davies and Neil Midgely the gay assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph are also homophobic?  They have an extreme and irrational aversion to themselves. Quick someone call the men in white coats!

I can’t help but think that CallmeDave was somewhat precipitous in his decision. Still every vote counts eh Dave? Cynical. Moi?