Comments: Melvyn Bragg interview transcript

If this is Rowan's best practice reading, he is lingering over legacy editions of yesterday's newspapers.

His male/female gloss is ever so mild & traditional, but ever so wrong.

What's left out?

Well, although he mentions the rest of male/female in passing (besides/beyond the anatomy/physical), he neglects to take into account that our more detailed empirical understanding not only added loads more facts into the storehouse, but also - this is key these days - overturns the received male/female frame of mutually exclusive categories that he is referencing, basic, innate to his gloss. We are all male/female, empirically, overlaid in many details to many degrees; and yes short hand talk still allows us to talk as if somebody were nothing but still all male and nothing but still all female - but that is misleading. (Talk trumps reality - that is what the constructionists in so many fields have been telling us for a while now; but there is reality, too, and it persists even when we talk it away by repeating legacy folk nonsense about male/female categories.)

The most accurate contemporary male/female is a complicated series of overlapping circles or continuums - along which we all vary, greatly. That widened circle of empirical existence now firmly includes sexual orientation variance and gender variance inside its normal limits.

If that doesn't dramatically reposition Rowan's nice, warm, traditionalistic gloss - interesting how highly and exclusively privileged it leaves him in relationship to God as nothing but a straight male? - then nothing empirical ever will move him on from reading yesteryear's newspapers.

Even with an assist from the interviewer, Rowan still cannot quite get his big keen mind and heart wrapped around the honest, decent lives that queer folks are living these days (right in front of his eyes) as they step out of the negative legacy Rowan still wishes to parse. Thus he cannot see that there is not that much more to the legacy condemnation, except for its enforcements of disgust, fear, and loathing through punishing queer folks.

(Deprived of police powers, the legacy grows anguished, and realizes it is doomed to become a historical tempest in a teapot.)

Rowan again is stuck on old news. He cannot be thankful yet, happy to associate himself with any real world LGBTQ people whose variance is a gift, not an unethical choice, and not an innate defect or damnation.

Posted by drdanfee at Wednesday, 23 August 2006 at 3:51pm BST

Did ++Rowan talk about anything other than homosexuality? Do Thinking Anglicans think about homosexuality every 7 seconds, but nothing else?

Posted by David Keen at Wednesday, 23 August 2006 at 8:51pm BST

The answers to your questions, David, are:

1. Yes. The interview lasted a whole hour (less commercials).

2. No.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Wednesday, 23 August 2006 at 9:10pm BST


And yet gender (masculinity and femininity) IS, to a very large extent (some would say completely), constructed. That is, gender as opposed to "sex".

Knowledge does not divide neatly into the academic categories of Maths, English, Humanities, etc. yet this has often been found to be convenient for the purpose of (eg) scheduling a timetable for university.

The notion of binary gender complementarity as expressed in a particular community may not line up perfectly with all genetic or biological manifestations of personality and physical features, which obviously vary greatly, but this is not necessarily to say that the notion has no positive value or power in humanity or in God's eyes.

Posted by nathan at Thursday, 24 August 2006 at 4:56am BST

I do not say that the binary folk legacy of gender has no value or power, nor do I deny that it can have positive (albeit shorthand?) iterations. It's a great place to start with young children, for example.

I am questioning the use of binary shorthand folk legacy ideas in the ethics, discernment, and theological reflection processes. The moment you reference the shorthand as if it accurately summed up the facts - you are sneaking in at least two definitional assumptions. One, you are presuming without scrutiny that all the facts must elaborate your preferred categories - and all the facts do not, indeed, do just that. Two, you are shifting the ethics, discernment, and theological reflection to think about the folk binary shorthand, not the huge storehouse of the facts. This means you will always end up where you have shifted, i.e., proclaiming the binary folk ideas as both fact and godliness.

A third area for more careful scrutiny is how carrying through both of these ploys completely omits and obscures the alternative frames which have arisen in the empirical domains, precisely because the binary folk ideas of gender were not accurate to the facts. Thus, not only will you shift your ethics, discernment, and theological reflection away from the facts, but also away from being able to reflect on the repositioning of our thinking that more accurate empirical frames always do to us.

So far I do not see any bright conservative minds who are not busy making just these errors as they run round their closed interpretive tracks in order to affirm physical sex as equivalent to folk binary gender ideas, along with everything else they wish to justify. (as fact, as godliness.)

I am not a doctrinaire constructionist. I think that there are important aspects of what we call gender that are developmentally and socially constructed. We are still learning just what those multiple and overlapping processes are. I doubt that we shall find all of gender is constructed – just wait for the genome news over the next twenty to thirty years or so. Meanwhile, we know enough already not to continue preaching flat earth ideas of gender and sexual orientation variance. Not even when it comes to straight folks.

Posted by drdanfee at Thursday, 24 August 2006 at 3:40pm BST

P.S. to nathan: I liked your university class timetable mention because I have always felt safer at school than on the streets, generally speaking. But, when was the last time we were asking ourselves to bar somebody from the Lord's Table because they had dared to sign up for a prohibited math class at six P.M. instead of the usual 8 A.M.? Just kidding. I do think we ought to be rather circumspect in claiming that we know what gender looks like in God's eyes. Mostly we may know from our other legacy ideas what gender does not look like in God's eyes: A)an occasion of dominance and submission, B)a human and institutional divide enforced through both systemic and face to face violence, and C)a category of humanity whose religious and other purities must always trump the real world lives and gifts of real world humans.

Posted by drdanfee at Thursday, 24 August 2006 at 3:51pm BST


Of course I agree that it's important to pay attention to the real details of real people.

I would suggest that holding to the value of a "mythical reality" (eg. "You knitted me together in my mother's womb") does not have to mean willful ignorance of, or lack of interest in, the facts we observe (embryonic development). These have different purposes. I guess some would say it that if the "mythical reality" is really from God, has biblical support (Mark 10:6-8, Ephesians 5:31), seems right to the Spirit, then it is worth consideration. The question would be whether, in making too many exceptions to a "rule", that "rule" is eventually rendered meaningless.

Posted by nathan at Thursday, 24 August 2006 at 9:59pm BST

To let oneself be deeply and positively informed by revelatory myth is one thing. To transform mythical vehicles into rules - maybe even rules in quotes - via institutional and other police powers might be another, really.

Deriving ethical rules and theology, for example, only from mythical vehicles pretty consistently brings us repeatedly face to face with the Copernican lesson - What do we do with flat earth models derived in good faith in a prior era from mythical vehicles of revelation? and, What do we do with the real earth, planets, sun and galaxy? Is a flat earth model derived from a legacy mythical vehicle of revelation the best, the only, good basis for our stewardship of the creation? Do we allow the changed empirical data to repositions us, with the predictable result that we will re-approach the mythical vehicle of revelation differently without exclusively relying on it for our provisional best discernments?

When it comes to flat earth models of human nature, the stakes get even higher - if such an escalation is possible in comparison with global warming and the ongoing mass extinction of species in our own era and ODC's we have sown into things for a century or so past.

Posted by drdanfee at Friday, 25 August 2006 at 3:29pm BST

It is good to see the acknowledgement that the descriptions of gender are arbitrary. I liked Nathan's uni system model, which relates to a article that explores how to overcome overly blinkered specialisation

On the rules of sexuality and the bible, the AIDS pandemic has brought home that humans are sexual beings. The God of the Book of Truth wants us to transcend or master our animal origins - God hates Baal-violence and narcissm. Commitment to life-long monogamous marriage is a way of bringing reverence into sex and a practical way of allowing people to manifest their sexuality in a controlled manner. One purpose is to slow the spread of STDs.

Humans implement Law well, they are not so good at understanding why the Law was created and thus find it hard to adapt it to changing circumstances.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 27 August 2006 at 8:07pm BST


Yes, although I didn't mean to say that gender is necessarily "arbitrary", which makes it sound flippant and without spiritual ontology. I would probably hold that gender has a real-ness which transcends the physical, just as do other concepts contained in the mystery of humanity's relationship with God.

Posted by nathan at Monday, 28 August 2006 at 2:38pm BST
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