Tuesday, June 16, 2015

General Genus and Shared Species

Oh dear. I did want not to pass comment on the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner situation, but then Rachel Dolezal turns up and suddenly we get faced with the questions, "Can I be what I want to be?" and "Do I have to be what I am?"These sound like rather philosophical questions along the lines of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" yet here, I think, we find ourselves at what is actually separating Church from Society. The question is that of supreme authority, and this means that there are two languages which are developing which are becoming very difficult to translate into the other.

Who has the right to determine who I am? Well, clearly I have a certain level of rights, and these are rights that must be observed by society. If I choose to call myself Marmaduke, and express that intention through the channels of law, then that is a solemn declaration that I am indeed called Marmaduke. I have that freedom of choice. Yet, I could declare that I live in Puddletown. However, my mail would never reach my door, because no-one else would recognise it, unless there was a unanimous verdict by the powers-that-be to agree to call the place Puddletown. I clearly don't have the right to change the identity of the place where I live because I share that identity with the people of my hometown.

The way we describe things is in terms of commonality with other things. The old scholastics called this being of a genus, and biological names still are given in terms of the general genus and the particular species. The tiger is the Panthera tigris, the lion the Panthera leo, and the leopard the Panthera pardus. We recognise that they have something in common (their genus) and something that is different (their species). This is how we classify things.

Now, readers of this little blogling will know that I have often quibbled about definitions of Anglicanism and believe that I claim to be an Anglican. Actually, I don't. I claim to be an Anglican Catholic, treating the term "Anglican" as an adjective to describe "Catholic". Others see the word "Anglican" as being a noun and they follow a different though, God willing, parallel path which will meet at the great Infinity. I have specified very carefully what I mean, and others of my Jurisdiction will by-and-large, agree with that definition. Do I have the right to call myself Anglican? I do, but confusion arises when I do so. Therefore, to ensure that I limit confusion and preserve clarity of the meaning, I call myself Anglican Catholic by which I mean "one who subscribes to the doctrine of the Seven Oeumenical Councils interpreted in the English manner."

Yet, let us look carefully at Jenner and Dolezal for we have some issues of identity here, and they are two faces of a common problem that is dividing Society. Jenner was born of the male sex. Jenner's physical body conformed to the male genus which is shared by me, by Simon Cowell, by Stephen Fry, by the Dalai Lama, by Origen, by Aron Ralston, and by Henry VIII. Yet Jenner claims that Jenner is a woman (forgive the tortuous language but I want to be as respectful as I can and yet make my point as carefully as I can. ) which I am not, nor are the others that I have mentioned, and yet Jenner still retains the same characteristics, the same genetic instructions that make me et cit., male.

We notice that the loss of an arm does stop Aron Ralston from being a human being, and that castration does not stop Origen from being male, and thus we do know that the genus of being human goes beyond having two arms, and the loss of genitals doesn't change the genus of being male. That identity lies much, much deeper. Indeed, any person genetically identical to Ralston would have two arms and any genetically identical to Origen would have clear male genitalia.

Yet the same is true of Jenner. Jenner and I have the same genetic identity of being male. We share it and yet Jenner seeks the right not to share it.

The same argument goes for Dolezal. She "identifies" with being black, and yet she does not share the same properties as any whose ancestry is indigenous to the African continent. Indeed, there are white members of my family who have been born in Africa, so simply being born there doesn't make them black! Being black is another physical characteristic and while it is good that Dolezal is fighting for true and lasting racial equality, she does not share the physical, genetic characteristic of those whose rights she is championing.

What this all boils down to is the individual's rage against not being who he wants to be. We seem to want the absolute right to choose our own being, or to be recognised by all people as being who we say we are. This is why the law courts are being involved heavily in areas of identity. The law courts pronounce what Society believes to be true. Yet, there is a problem when a woman born male tries to enter female spaces only to be told that he does not share the property of being female. This is a big issue in LGBT relations. If lesbians identify as women and transgender men identify as women, then the must agree that they share the same property. But they don't! Indeed, for the feminist fighting for equal rights for women, the transgender man does not share the property of being a woman. There is this divide and both cry out to the law to pronounce Society's universal acceptance.

This is the same issue with marriage between heterosexual and homosexual couples. From a legal point of view, my marriage to my wife should be legally equivalent to that of Stephen Fry and Elliot Spencer. Just as my wife should automatically inherit my goods on the event of my death, so should Elliot receive Stephen's goods. From a legal point of view, the partnerships are recognised and given the same legal rights. However, can Stephen bear Elliot's son? Irrelevant? Yet, that is something that can probably happen in an heterosexual marriage and definitely not in an homosexual marriage. That is, of course, the couple are truly homosexual i.e. of the same sex! Here is a property of marriage that is not shared between the two ideas.

Let us then get back to the question in hand. Do we have the right to declare who we are? Does a man have the right to be recognised as a woman? This is quite painful, because clearly there are strong feelings here and there is a genuine belief that there is something wrong. That strength of feeling needs to be recognised and respected, but there are limitations to the extent that it can be accepted. If we are allowed to choose who we are by law, then eventually the terms "male" and "female" will become absolutely meaningless. Essentially, we have here the situation that arises from rejecting Kant's categorical imperative.

The greater problem, of course, lies with the relationship with he Church. We in the Church have two fundamental objective facts upon which we build our understanding of the world which can be summed up in a verse from the Jubilate: "know ye that the Lord, He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves." We take our being from God which means that we have unalterable characteristics determined by God which we share with some but not other human beings. To change them would be to change who we are, and since it is God who gives us being, we have no right to change those characteristics even if we had the power.

Thus, the Church has no authority or right to challenge God's instituted characteristics. The demand for the ordination of women, the demand that a man have the right to universal acceptance as a women, the demand that a homosexual marriage be the same as heterosexual marriage cannot be met as they fly in the face in the belief in a creator God who has made the decision first. However, the more that Society rejects the existence and authority of God, the more that human beings will believe that they are the sole arbiters of their own existence and thus there will be tensions in the Law and in Society the more that these situations arise.

Of course, I will probably hear the transgender person say, "why do you hate me? why can you not allow me to be me?" What I say in return is, "I do not hate you, one little bit. The fact is: I do not understand you; you seem to be speaking a different language from me and I can make no sense of it at the moment. Until we do understand each other, let us not assume that the words we say are words of hatred but rather a search for the clarity that we have lost in the meanings of words. I recognise you as a fellow human being and therefore worthy of my love and respect, regardless of  how we see the world. That is what my God teaches me. I will pray for you as most assuredly I beg your prayers. We are only human after all!"

One of the facts of being human in the Created order is that we find in ourselves things that we hate about ourselves and we burn to change them. We find ourselves as Dr Jekyll wrestling with Mr. Hyde. That is part of the human condition. We are fallen, imperfect, misshapen, by the world. by our circumstances and by our own choices. Ultimately, we must look at the mess we've got ourselves into, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and walk back to the Father we left behind as the prodigal sons and daughters that we are. Then and only then will we be able to accept ourselves as the people He created us to be.

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