Anguished Archbishops

Okay so these seventeen archbishops. All tied up in knots they are. All frantic and agitated and unhappy. Tearing their episcopal hair, rending their purple robes, chewing their anglican nails. And for why? For because that the Archbish of C isn’t being harsh enough toward non-heterosexuality. That’s why. Okay – why? Why is that a reason? Why are they so agitated about non-heterosexuality? Why does it upset them? Why does it worry them? Why do they think it’s so terrible?

They don’t really say. Maybe it’s too much to expect them to, in a letter to the Archbish, since they probably expect him to know. But still – since religious types never do seem to manage to come up with real – rational, universalizable, non-theist, non-authoritarian – reasons for the worry, it’s too bad they don’t.

They do make some attempt

The Second Letter of Peter, which you quoted in terms of our participation in the divine nature (1.4) describes division in the church uncannily like the false leaders in our Communion today: “For, uttering loud boasts of folly, they entice with licentious passions of the flesh men who have barely escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved.” (II Peter 2.18-19)

So presumably they are there saying that sexuality is slavery because of its power? But that won’t do as a reason, obviously, because it’s not as if same-sex sex is overpowering while other-sex sex is not. So that doesn’t really amount to a reason. People who get all tied up in knots about non-heterosexuality do have such a hard time coming up with real reasons – they always just end up with ‘God says,’ and that is not a reason, it’s simply a command. Basic vocabulary: a command is not the same thing as a reason, a reason is not the same thing as a command.

We appreciated your acknowledgement of the “overwhelming consensus” of the Church in time and space in believing that sex is intended by God for married couples only and therefore that same-sex sex is unacceptable and cannot be described as “holy and blessed”. You stated that you as Archbishop must stand with this consensus. We are most grateful for your unequivocal words. We wonder, however, whether your personal dissent from this consensus prevents you from taking the necessary steps to confront those churches that have embraced teaching contrary to the overwhelming testimony of the Anglican Communion and the church catholic. We urge you to rethink your personal view and embrace the Church’s consensus and to act on it, based as it is on the clear witness of Scripture.

Similar (though not identical) problem. ‘Intended by God’ – apart from all the other problems with that, some of which are of doubtful relevance here since the letter is addressed to an archbishop, it assumes that the writers of the letter know what is intended by ‘God’. Tricky. Very tricky. The evidence is contradictory and patchy.

In short it’s hard to escape the conclusion that all this kind of thing is just more Amplification, as Simon Blackburn says [pdf].

But equally perhaps ‘God exists’ functions largely as a license to demand respect creep. It turns up an amplifier, and what it amplifies is often the meanest and most miserable side of human nature. I want your land, and it enables me to throw bigger and better tantrums, ones that you just have to listen to, if I find myself saying that God wants me to want your land. A tribe wants to enforce the chastity of its women, and the words of the supernatural work to terrify them into compliance.

Or I don’t like poofters, and I can throw bigger and better tantrums – I can tell the Archbishop of Canterbury what’s what – if I claim to know what’s intended by God. It’s hard not to think that the Global South archbishops just don’t like people who go in for ‘same-sex sex’ and use God as an enforcer. And this is one of the many many reasons religion is such a regressive, narrow, stifling way to think. In any other context, a two or three thousand year old book is judged on its merits. It may well be taken to be full of wisdom, to have much to teach us, to be well worth reading and learning from – but for secular, rational, communicable, universalizable reasons, not for magical or ineffable or supernatural ones. For discussion-continuing reasons, not for discussion-ending reasons. What an airless, parched, small, blank little world the world of Authority is.

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