Comments: opinion for the equinox

Theo Hobson is having a bad day. His morose indulgence in stereotypes is the acme of masochistic liberal self-bashing. By his reasoning to oppose slavery or child abuse or capital punishment or nuclear weapons would be objectionable as a trendy secularist perversion of Christianity. His description of the heroic and thoroughly evangelical Bp Robinson as whiner is despicable.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 11:28am GMT

Theo Hobson writes of "a man who decides he's gay" leaving his wife. Does he really believe being gay or straight comes with an on/off switch? And are "sexual liberation, individualism, hedonism" limited to gay people?

If I had a dime for every letter to a Dear Abby that starts off,"My fiance and I have been together for three years and have two kids, but he doesn't want to commit to marriage..." I would be rich. In the States, at least, fiance has come to mean "my live-in with whom I am having sex [and babies]" - is this true across the pond?

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 2:49pm GMT

Homophobic offering from Theo Hobson. Who has nt begun to comprehend the issues at stake, or get his language straight.

I have no respect for this pompous, ignorant cr-p.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 5:30pm GMT

Theo Hobson "It has led to the perpetuation of a rather flabby liberalism that speaks the language of self-help therapy and political correctness."

Goodness me, I'm almost in total agreement with the man. I think we might go on to struggle with definitions of liberal Christianity and liberal religion. I've take the place of gays in ministry as a given, but this and the above quoted is not the main defining point of religious believing.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 5:51pm GMT

'There is no code of Christian morality other than "Be perfect"'.

Theo Hobson's article is so full of tendentious statements that it is difficult to know where to begin. This one sets up every one who hears the message of Jesus to be a failure. None of us is perfect and none of us can achieve perfection. That is the nature of our humanity. God doesn't ask us for the impossible.

When God created heaven and earth he saw that it was good, not 'perfect'.

And as for the implication that people 'decide to be gay'. Words fail me (for once!).

Posted by Richard Ashby at Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 6:11pm GMT

If Theo Hobson has a point, then it is tangential to the main point--discrimination. Discrimination creates victims, and victims are often helped by becoming a community in which self-esteem can be reaffirmed and reconstructed. I wonder if Hobson thinks that African -North American churches or First Nations congregations are also a "subculture"? As an aside, when I think of subculture the first image that comes to mind are men in pointy hats and capes.

I can understand why Hobson bemoans the contribution of feminists. After all feminist theologians, for example, have laid the ground work in the struggle for self-definition over and against social roles assigned by a patriarchal system--and patriarchy is alive and well still in most religions including Anglicanism.

The problem is not sex as much as it is the church's problem with sex. Who gets to make the rules both for oneself and for others. Therein lies the central problem of discrimination and with it the remedy of civil rights.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 7:22pm GMT

Theo Hobson:"We are talking about human desire, which is endlessly fallible. The language of liberation therefore does not quite apply."

Have you considered that some of us are talking about identity, Theo? A little science might help you to understand my meaning. Sexual minority status is the result of a complex of genetic factors, intrauterine hormonal factors, and for some a degree of isoimmunization (auto-immune reaction to the XY fetus). We are talking about far more than desire here. Brain and endocrine structures and functioning are unique among gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Of course, there is a continuum of expression of these traits. However, to follow your language, I think that in your essay you have engaged in just the kind of "flabby liberalism" that you critize. Make the effort to rigorously review the science in these fields and then try again.

I am an intersex female, born with Partial Anrogen Insensitivity Syndrome. This condition, like most forms of sexual minoritiy status, is an x-linked recessive trait. I was born with ambiguous sexual characteristics and my parents chose to raise me as a boy. I never felt like a male for one minute in my life. After leaving home at eighteen, I began to live as myself, a female, and I underwent two surgical procedures to make sexual relationship a possibility for me. I am a widow, having lost my husband in 1994. Until her dying day at the age of ninety, my mother did not accept me.

I have the privilege of being an Episcopal priest in a Church that is vilified for ordaining persons such as me. I am sure that you would support the possibility of my ordination, but your remarks trivialize my struggle and that of millions of other persons.

Theo, do you have any idea how dismissive and hurtful your essay may be to some of its readers, or how very far wide of the mark it is?

Posted by karen macqueen+ at Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 8:44pm GMT

Moving to Giles Fraser, and the ontology of being dead, one day, somehow, whoever we are: a bold article which I find refreshing and restorative in the face of just three funerals booked in for next week. One visit done today, another tomorrow, and then the third - and they will all be different, unique even; and none of them anything to do with the local Church community, and not much talk of God, or of immortality, thus far; though I have many times heard tell of Uncle Bob looking down from above. How ghastly that must be if that's what heaven's about!

I had a 'difficult' aunt who always had the last word, though she was silent at her funeral. She waited until everyone had long gone home; and on her gravestone are the words of her own choosing:
Death - a new beginning.

Our Lord, and all of us, was and will be as dead as the proverbial Dodo; but - and fantasy is commonly much preferred to mystery or theology - in Christ shall all be made alive. By the will of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, those of us 'in Christ' here on earth may experience a foretaste of something of that, maybe like Stanley Spencer's description of Cookham as a village in heaven. But it can only be fulfilled beyond the grave of dust and ashes, and by the same means.

Not a continuation, not a beginning, but a new beginning, God willing. And for the nervous, the wisest words I ever heard from the late, that's to say dead, Fr Eric Franklin, when a home communicant said that she was worried that when she died there might be nothing: 'In that case, my dear, you've got nothing to worry about.'

Posted by Peter Edwards at Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 11:39pm GMT

Oh Karen. Thank you for your witness. I pray all blessings upon you . . . and though TA is usually a more uptight place than this, {{{hugs!}}}

God created you just as you are: a tower of strength!

WTF is the matter w/ Theo Hobson? If this was less reputable (?) source than The Guardian, I'd suspect a *fraud* [like the ballyhoo'd fake (celebrity) Twitter pages I keep hearing about]. Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed, and decided that it was Teh Gays, not himself, that was askew! O_o

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 5:12am GMT

The answer to John Richardson seems to be, that God's Righteousness isn't a mere Justice, which may be as petty as anything...

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 6:43am GMT

Matthew 5:48, the verse often given as: "Be perfect!" as here, in reality sais:

Ésesthe oún umeîs téleioi ås ó patär umån ó oúranos téleios estin:

Be mindfull of the end/result as your Father in the Heavens is mindful of the end/result.

Which calls for an entirely different approach than the silly "Be Perfect".

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 7:47am GMT

" The gay issue separates the advocates of Christian freedom from the legalists. It is a crucial shibboleth. Those who appeal to holy rules against homosexuality should indeed be denounced as sub-Christian." - Theo Hobson -

Normally, I like what Theo Hobson has to say about the gay issue and the Church. And perhaps the most important sentence in this latest article is that which appears above. The fact that the Pauline would-be legalists are wrong - in their assumption that homosexuality, per se, is against the Law - is a known fact to Christian Gay people. However, some of the other bits of Theo's argument are a little more contentious.

For instance: to suggest that all activism on this issue leads to 'flabby liberalism' is not really the truth. Of course, there can be a non-religious tendency towards a certain looseness of morality which might normally be considered to be a non-authentic expression of Christian theology of sex; but most people on this site, I find, tend to be Christians who happen to believe that sexuality is an inborn characteristic, that has to be handled responsibily - within the contaxt of what has been inherited as one's natural sexual-orientation. This is a justice issue.

Arguing from a Christian standpoint is, naturally, expected to be theologically robust and sustainable - rather than just an expression of one's own wants or even needs. Sexuality needs to be accepted as a legitimate part of everyone's humanity, and therefore needing to be capable of the same sort of self-discipline for each category - whether of heterosexual or L.G.B.or T. origins.

What Christian Gays normally want is for all of us to be subject to the same rules of expression - vis a vis relationships - as anyone else. The only reason Gays may seem more forceful in their arguments is that they are having to overturn the status quo of ant-gay prejudice - often arising from an antiquated understanding, by the Church, of the natural diversity of human sexual response.
Illicit sex is just that - whether it be hetero-or homosexual. Relationships are paramount.

One wonders whether the original justice issues were ever assumed to have been fought by 'flabby' advocates. Slavery, racial discrimination, for instance; were their advocates mainly self-seeking, and oblivious to the claims of their promoters?

Be careful, Theo, you don't become one of those people who feel they must bring about balance by providing a devil's advocacy. There are too many of these already within the Churches.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 8:34am GMT

Thank you Karen.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 2:02pm GMT

I think it is actually fairly recently that liberal Christianity has focused on gay questions. Arguably it should be a broader preoccupation, though thought that was part of the thinking behind affirming catholicism. There are times when I thought liberalism does lose its focus and isn't Sharp enough on science, evolution (without a doubt the most important of our species) and the similarly well established but to us no less (but surely no more) important literary criticism applied to the bible. The interesting thing is that,these are intellectual areas of human life whereas being inclusive and challenging unjust treatment are moral virtues of action. An overly nationalistic view means you need a degree in theology before you can open your mouth. Of course there are other issues other than sexuality but if the church can't talk about love then our problems are greater than I thought.

I thought Theo was usefully thought provoking but very unkind to bishop Robinson.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 4:33pm GMT

+karen, thank you for your post. God made all of us in God's image. God is both female and male, for God cannot create that which God does not know. At the same time, God is neither female nor male. Peace be upon you and your house.
Regarding Theo Hobson, I can be thin-skinned, but I took him to be saying that he wants stronger theological underpinnings. He understands the civil and human rights contexts, but wants firmer theology. Maybe I'm being naive, but I didn't see an antagonism towards GLBT people's involvement in all levels of the church.

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 5:26pm GMT

Giles Fraser is a (superficially) clever person who is actually very stupid. As always, it's all about him. The fact - if it is a fact - that he (by his lights) has no personal interest in immortality or resurrection drives his entire theology. The fact that without some such belief it is impossible to justify divine goodness is completely beyond him. This is really, really low grade 'liberal' Christianity.

John Moles
Professor of Latin
Newcastle University.

Posted by john at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 7:41pm GMT

Perhaps Mr. Hobson should look at this example of flabby liberalism:

Posted by Counterlight at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 8:01pm GMT

Thank you Goran. That's very helpful.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 10:10pm GMT

Is Theo H now a Pod Person? Just kidding, but couldn't help wondering.

Gee, TH, you must have been having a really, really, really bad day - perhaps we can blame it all on self-confident queer folks?

The real fakery involved is the standard posing of the closed, unchanging, exclusive Either/Or that is so so so beloved of traditionalist religious folks - either one may be secular and flabby and sentimental and self-indulgent and hedonistic ... please, do go on ... or ... one may be rigid, devoted to closed/final categories and essences ... often in a telling medieval-like manner of thinking ... while one is thus being utterly faithful to holiness, perfect before God.

Surely the deep axis of the queer communities is to try to establish more open, less Either/Or zones for life and discernment ... admittedly as imperfect as nearly any human endeavor, except for that of the conservative Anglicans of course who are always so perfect, compared to queer folks?

TH prescribes that we should man up. That may be the heart beat of his discomfort? He finds sexuality especially ambiguous? Since when? If queer folks were organized around the sort of ambiguity in self-knowledge, service, and ethics that TH simply presumes, nobody would bother Coming Out - just having secret orgies on the side would be quite satisfying. Once you get an orgasm, you are home free, in TH's flabby thinking about queer sex.

He presumes rather the sort of flabbiness about queer folks that he urges us to supersede by widening and deepening our theology and our life together.

Hint to TH: being sexed bodily grounds a whole lot of fancy high, handsome wide, juicy deep and practical things in life. Many ambiguities formerly presumed to obtain for all things sexual in human life are rapidly being replaced by empirical data which reveals an astounding and marvelous reality, quite complex, and quite developmental.

Tagging the sexed body as your presumed basis for flab, hedonism, and superficiality or narrowness is too indebted to medieval presuppositions and foundations, by far. Yes we will have to rethink the sexed human body, and yes we are indeed rethinking the sexed human body - mainly thanks to the flood of emerging sciences, along with the everyday witness of real, live queer folks who may be just as exemplary or just as silly as any straight folks.

Posted by drdanfee at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 11:35pm GMT

Thanks to GKS for the helpful translation corrections. Thanks also to Giles Fraser for getting me right back to Christian basics, and to William Temple. Alas, what has happened to Anglican thinking since Temple?

J Richardson seems to have fallen completely into the false trap that punishment enacts any sort of justice, however much we still have recourse to punishment as a practical matter. After long, long, long years of hearing how godly punishment is on earth, with eternal punishment being even more godly, I demur. Punishment now seems to me, to be essentially a clear admission that redemption is not found possible, nor repentance change aka metanoia, nor forgiveness that is trustworthy enough to do more than punishment on earth (or in hell?) ever looks likely to make real?

Just sayin...

Posted by drdanfee at Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 11:42pm GMT

Professor Moles--

A distinction. As I read it, Giles Fraser is ready to distinguish between a disembodied immortal soul, in which he does not believe, and a resurrected person, "body and soul." It's the latter that is referred to in the Creeds, and it's the latter that he says will be part a future posting. Granted, the man has a way of picking a provocative article title!

Posted by Christopher (P.) at Monday, 21 March 2011 at 12:16am GMT

Re Goran:
I would have said teleios is something like 'complete' rather than 'mindful of the end'. And in the sense of complete as to its innate 'end' one might say perfect (or perfected?) - though I don't much like 'perfect' as a translation here either.

Posted by Sara MacVane at Monday, 21 March 2011 at 6:56am GMT

@Sara, and I would say neither Perfect nor Complete is within our reach as fallible human beings.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Monday, 21 March 2011 at 8:03am GMT

Many valuable comments, especially those from Karen and Goran. However I am surprised no-one has picked up on Theo's rejection of 'accepting who you are' and his belief that it is contradictory to any progress towards perfection/completeness.

In my experience it is those (rare?) communities where you feel accepted as you are which most profoundly demonstrate Christian love. As a concept I have heard it from many spiritual sources, but the two which remain most clear are from a local Benedictine nun and from the introductory week of the year-long Ignatian retreat (on-line). Neither would seem to fit the description of 'soft spirituality', not did either see self-acceptance as opposed to transformation. Indeed self-acceptance was seen as an essential starting point for transformation.

Posted by Amanda Goody at Monday, 21 March 2011 at 10:23am GMT

@Goran - mine was only a linguistic comment. Teleios as 'mindful of the end' seems to me be stretching the Greek a bit. Surely though you are right to point out that we are never 'complete' much less 'perfect' in the here and now where we see only as in a glass darkly.

Posted by Sara MacVane at Monday, 21 March 2011 at 12:06pm GMT

Many seem to understand "perfect" as punctiliously correct, rather than "brought to a completed state" or "finished" as in a work of art. Thus it is vitally important to "be what one is" and act in accord with the best that is in one. I recently cited the late Canon Richard Norris for his observation that 'we will say to one who is to all appearances a man, "Be a man!" No one would dare or need say, "Be a cat" to a cat!'

Amanda G has it exactly right.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Monday, 21 March 2011 at 2:57pm GMT

Christopher (P.),

You may be right - or you may not. I'm probably over-influenced by other postings of his. I don't like it when someone loudly proclaims full gay equality (including having Gene Robinson preach at his church) and then publicly proclaims that he won't give a church blessing to gay couples: seems to me that the primary motivation there is to tell the powers-that-be: I'm a tame poodle really. I've read other postings where he has argued - or seemed to argue - that human continuance consists only in children. And the posting on the Japan disaster seems characteristicaly lazy. There is perfectly good theology available on these matters which takes full account of all relevant factors - Keith Ward writes regularly on these matters. 'Christianity with attitude' too often seems posturing a form of aggressive ignorance.

Posted by John at Monday, 21 March 2011 at 7:45pm GMT

I - personally - find Hobson and Fraser both to be . . . media personalities. Nothing else. Of course they are going to say controversial things, take the eclectic stance; they do it for the same reason as the annoying hipsters we've all known (or, like me, been) at some point: to seem cool, cleverer than everybody else by not approving the crowd's prevailing tastes, and, most importantly, to make everybody pay attention - which, in their case, means boosting readership.

Both are clever enough to know how much word choice matters, so, their provocative statements and phrases can only be seen as a deliberate stance, a character put on.

I really wouldn't read any more into it than that, nor take it personally. I'm not sure that you're going to find quality theological/philosophical rumination in people who go out of their way to declaim an opinion in the press, or constantly make themselves available for interview in mass media. Most real theologians and philosophers are busy living it, don't you think?

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 24 March 2011 at 7:54am GMT

I'm a little surprised by your comment. I don't know anything about Theo Hobson but Giles Fraser is certainly busy living. I only met him once, when he had been brave enough to invite Gene Robinson to preach at his church just before the Lambeth Conference to which he was so publicly not invited. Of course it attracted media interest but that's not the same as saying it was done purely for PR reasons.

The church itself was a thriving parish with lots of groups and activities and I would be very surprised if you could say with any confidence that Giles had nothing to do with the effective running of the church.

I wish there were more people willing to speak out to communicate their faith and to give the church a higher and more positive profile.

We don't have to agree with every word they say, but I'm delighted that people like Giles are willing to spend some of their time being effective communicators.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 24 March 2011 at 10:25am GMT

Sort of true, Erika, but that same GF has publicly stated that he won't bless gay Christian partnerships. That surely should be a difficulty for you?? As for 'effective communicators', 'yes' also, but also 'no', because one can't evade conscientious evaluation of the CONTENT of what they are communicating, in which, I reassert, GF is consistently low-grade. The point is more general (and it's one which you yourself have frequently made): one shouldn't, one really shouldn't, evaluate contributions ONLY by whether the contributors belong to a particular 'camp'.

Posted by john at Thursday, 24 March 2011 at 6:52pm GMT

There is nothing inherently unprincipled about believing a rule should be changed yet declining to break the rule. Indeed, "passive obedience" was an historic hallmark of Anglicanism.

I'm in much the same position as Giles on this. While I will not criticize those who choose to break unjust rules, and will commend them for their courage, on this issue at this time, I believe I can do more good for the cause this way.

Posted by Malcolm French+ at Thursday, 24 March 2011 at 9:22pm GMT

I don't find this difficult at all.
You join an institution and you agree to abide by its rules. You may want to change the rules, you may campaign for the rules to be changed, but until they do, you abide by them.
That's a time honoured principle.

I personally would not act like that in this case and I personally respect every priest who believes that in the case of same sex equality the time has come to put good theology and human rights before institutional politics.

But that is a genuine difference of opinion and approach that must be allowed and one that I will respect.

As for low grade contributions - I usually find Giles Fraser's writings convincing and even where I don't agree with them they have an internal logic. It would be helpful if we could talk about specific examples.

The article that prompted this set of comments is a case in point. As Christopher P pointed out, there is a difference between the resurrection of someone dead and the immortality of the soul embodied in the belief that just died uncle Bob is observing his own funeral.
Again, it is irrelevant what I personally believe - Giles' argument is well made and has merit.

Shallow, self serving and publicity seeking it isn't. Or at least, if you believe that it is, you have to make a stronger case than you have done here.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 24 March 2011 at 10:50pm GMT

Erika, I've said nothing about his committment to his work!

However, he does spend a great deal of time in the spotlight, and I don't consider media clips and paper articles to constitute "communicating his faith." Doing that requires a good deal more than soundbites and interviews. Sorry, but we're going to disagree on this one. He may be great at what he does, but that doesn't preclude being a bit of an attention seeker - there's nothing wrong with that; it's a common personality trait - and doesn't make him a solid spokesman for the rest of us, liberal, conservative or disinterested.

What I am saying is that his statements really shouldn't be drumming up this much concern one way or the other. He isn't The Church, but one person who is part of it. Expecting him to be either hero or villain is a bit outside his paygrade. He just shouldn't be that interesting to us. I find *you* and JCF and Ron Smith and David Shepherd all far more interesting and better at communicating your faith in public than Fraser or Hobson, but you don't have an entire section in an internationally-recognized news-roundup blog in threads detailing "Opinions for . . . . " It's not that I think Fraser or Hobson are fakes or layabouts looking for cheap fame, simply that they have obtained notoriety simply for media exposure, and their stature and importance as theological thinkers exceeds their actual contributions because of that.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Friday, 25 March 2011 at 4:10am GMT

The liberals in the Church of England have done, and do do very little consistently to support lgbt people in a practical, principled and again consistent way.

In my experience over six decades this has been so; and those who talk the talk most, actually DO little or nothing, or go back on their word. The current archbishop of Canterbury must be the most outstanding contemporary example of this.

And most diocesan bishops have knowingly ordained lesbian and gay people as ministers, but when those people need support, they turn their backs;and if necessary lie in public about it. and particularly in 'the media'.

No wonder so many thoughtful spiritual people have given up on the Church of England.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Friday, 25 March 2011 at 7:47pm GMT

I tried to post again on this last night, but either I committed some technical error or I was censored. I'll try again now.

Erika, I specifically said that it was OK (a) to espouse full gay equality but (b) not to bless pro tem. What I objected to was the combination of (a) and (c) - public announcement of policy not to bless. That seems to me lick-spittling. These points made, I think there is tremendous force in the objections of Laurence Roberts and Karen McQ. Like the latter, I believe the Episcopal Church has done a great and wonderful thing which will redound to its eternal glory (and will be rewarded). Like LR, I think many 'liberal' Christians guilty of dreadful hypocrisy and low dealing, and I certainly think RW is a prime suspect.

On the other matter, there is obviously a difference between immortality of soul and resurrection, but this difference doesn't matter much within the context of a polarity between 'after death nothing' and 'after death something'. I will be surprised (on the basis of my earlier readings of GF) if he comes up with something substantive on resurrection (particularly as affecting human beings other than Jesus). I am not here criticising anyone for not holding to (some form of) Christian orthodoxy. Obviously - and I do think it obvious -any such beliefs are difficult to believe. But my point is an intellectual one: without some such doctrines one cannot sustain the case for divine goodness. I am totally unpersuaded that Giles Fraser understands this. He's too busy posturing.

Neither you nor anyone else has responded to my charge that GF's piece on Japan was 'lazy'. So it was - in just the same way as on his piece on the first tsunami. On occasions such as these, the man doesn't bother to think, he seems to think it useful to proclaim a sort of generalised 'aporia'. It isn't: it is, precisely, useless. It is all the more inadequate because there are perfectly decent theological discussions by serious theologians of these matters: I again instance Keith Ward.

Posted by john at Saturday, 26 March 2011 at 8:11pm GMT
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.