Friday, 3 December 2010

Guardian 'Comment is Free: Belief': Christian sexuality is a Jacob's Ladder

My contribution to the CIF section (see yesterday's post for other links).

[...] Human sexuality needs to be seen, therefore, in both its sacramental aspects if it is to be understood Christianly.

"Outwardly and physically", it is part of the marvellous, but commonplace, process by which living things make variant versions of themselves. Thinking of it this way should keep us grounded in all our thinking about the topic, including both its personal expression and its social dimension.

But considered "inwardly and spiritually", human sexuality has an iconic significance, being a point where the divine finds earthly expression – where something that is true about the creator-redeemer God in his relationship with his created-redeemed people is imaged and embodied in human relationship and experience.

This is why the subject of our sexuality is so inescapable, despite various efforts over time to neutralise, demonise or trivialise the subject. It is a veritable Jacob's ladder – a place where heaven and earth combine. But until the two become one, it will continue to trouble us, as well as to enthral us. Read more 

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  1. I thought 'wow, what a great article' then I read the comments and felt depressed!!! Really like the article but perhaps it could do with a bit more application ie so what does that mean for how christians should actually live and also a fuller explanation of the theology for those unable to fill in the blanks/join the dots due to lack of prior knowledge. Having said that I suspect it may be a case of throwing pearls among swine and you are likely to get similarly swinish responses from certain people no matter how you put things!

    Elizabeth Bridcut

  2. Thanks Elizabeth. The thing is, we're only allowed 600 words or so, and therefore a full treatment is impossible.

    BTW I now never read the comments, having tried it a few times! I wonder why the sort of people who do comment read the articles in the first place - none of them ever seem to enjoy them.

    I just hope there are others out there who benefit from CIF Belief - but I think they may actually be intimidated from commenting.

  3. Excellent article John. Shame that CiF seems to be place where commenters rarely engage in any kind of reasoned debate and are full of bigotry and prejudice.

    Fortunately it rarely happens on this blog.

    Chris Bishop

  4. A really good article, written in way that I found very accessible.

    With reference to Elizabeth's comment above, I'm actually rather pleased you didn't go into the detail about how you believe Christians should behave when it comes to sex. (The question was, after all, how should Christians think about sex, not how should Christians do sex.) That would have reduced the article to being just another punch in the relentless boxing match between liberals and conservatives in the Church. Instead, the article takes us back to common ground, taking us out of the muddy trenches of intractable warfare and back into the presence of our heavenly father.

    It really is quite inspiring stuff you've written, John!

  5. "... The question was, after all, how should Christians think about sex, not how should Christians do sex. ..."

    Well, yes. Plus lots of diagrams would have had to be included then.

    "... 600 words or so .."

    Up to 850; I think once I got away in a piece for Cif with near 900.

    "... I wonder why the sort of people who do comment read the articles in the first place - none of them ever seem to enjoy them. ..."

    That is a real pity that you see it that way. I think you're hurting your own cause a lot through that; when I looked through the comments thread under your piece, a couple of things really stood out.

    a) You simply weren't being flamed as seems to be made out here; there were only two bad flamers, then there were two people supportive of your message who took the time out to say exactly why they supported it. IOW, I am not including Peter Ould or a couple of others who simply complimented the piece; I mean here commentators such as savvymum, who is in broad support of your own message, and who actually seems to have been the impetus behind Cif having that mini-series in the first place on the Church and sex.

    b) People were honestly puzzled on the whole by a missing gap in your argument. You did the Incarnation, but you failed, pardon me, to make a logical connection between that and regarding sex as a sacramental act. It really did need an extra bridge there, a bridge which wasn't there.

    c) Commentators like BarrabasFreed (also in that thread) are not hostile to your message, but will comment where they see it as being deficient. Actually engaging with such non-hostile commentators can only help you get your message out.

    d) Cif commentators are by no means at all as homogenous as made out here, nor was any great bigotry apparent in the comments thread under your piece.

    In my own main Cif piece, I managed to get up to at least comment #150 before finally someone tried to savage me very nastily, and it was at least #200 before it got really nasty.

    e) There seems to be an assumption here that it's you [plural, i.e. Evangelicals] against the rest of the world in an enviroment like Cif comments threads; that really is simply not so. It's a much more loose enviroment, but Cif commentators can be surprisingly kind when they feel like it, and when they feel the piece writer is engaging with them, i.e. even where massive disagreement is present, if the writer gets on their wavelength, reasoned discussion is possible.

    It really isn't your lot against the secular lot; atheists who write atheist pieces get savaged too, and one of the most anti-CofE regular commentators on Cif threads is in fact a committed Catholic. Or, IOW, engaging with the commentators up to say comment #50 is often very worth it, for the sake of your cause.

    f) Which brings us onto what is both a theological and practical issue for you; are you assuming hositility where there is none, and are you being too Karl Barthian? By that I mean, Barth was fond of the line of only preaching at people, not talking with them.

    I'll assume every single person here really doesn't like others who only shout at them, so then everyone can see, do as you would be done unto, no?

    You've rather inspired me, Ugley Vicar, to write a blog post soon on the parallels between us atheists and you Evangelicals: so many of the pitfalls are the same. If you don't mind, I'll come by again once I have done my piece on that, and give the link.

    As ever, from ice-bound Solingen, Germany, cheers,
    ~ Gurdur

  6. Thanks Gurdur. Just on the word count thing, I did ask Andrew Brown, who commissioned the piece whether it should be the usual "600 - 650 words" to which he said yes.

    I am painfully aware of the limitations imposed by the framework, but on the other hand, within the space allowed, I hope to get people to think further.

    There is also the question of timescale - that piece had to be written in an evening, with time for a couple of revised sentences the next morning.

    I hope this doesn't just look like excuses, but CiF is quite a restricted forum, where one has to meet both a schedule and a physical limit.

  7. PS to Gurdur, on your recommendation I read the comments thread.

    Oh dear!

    It reminds me that my aversion isn't about an 'atheists vs Christians' thing. It is that the comments just seem to be people 'running off at the mouth'. I seriously wouldn't know where to start to engage with it.

    It also reminds me why I try to run a full names and proper address policy here. I really think it would do some people a lot of good if their CiF comments could be pinned on them more personally!

    You yourself have obviously got to grips with the article, and one person had thought about it enough to raise a pertinent question, but the rest ...!

    There was one interesting issue raised (albeit, I think, unconsciously) by the individual calling themselves "Redmullet", who called "going for a shit an act of extraordinary theological importance".

    Actually, it is. I was speaking in a public debate many years ago on Christianity and Islam, where each proponent had to describe their faith and why people should believe it.

    The Muslim speaker was, I think, having trouble making headway until he dismissed the incarnation on the grounds that it would have meant God going to the toilet. Suddenly his audience relaxed - to them, this was a 'knock down' argument against the Christian view of God. To Christians, of course, it is a fundamental fact to reckon with about the world.

    But don't think I'm going to bother posting that on CiF!