Spitting Image II


Kind readers have emailed me in defence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The ‘gender’ of God in the Scriptures and in the tradition, they say, is focused on authority. God is called ‘King’ and ‘Lord’ only in order to express his power and sovereignty. But such language only holds in societies, like the Graeco-Roman world, which privilege men in this way. Times are changing; we know better now. This view, I am told, was recently voiced by the LGBT Church historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, in the Daily Mail, of all places. It is hard to know precisely what is being said.

  • Does it follow, for example, that in a matriarchal society, the incarnation would necessarily be female? Of course, we have no record of societies which were not patriarchal, but even if we had, the proposition would remain unverifiable, since the incarnation is unique by definition. I am put in mind of an old joke.

An astronaut lands on a previously unknown planet and is accosted by its inhabitants. Since he is a good catholic he has been schooled by his parish priest in the questions he must ask. ‘Has there been a Fall?’ If the answer is Yes: ‘Has there been an incarnation?’ If the answer is Yes: ‘Then kindly direct me to the nearest Catholic church.’

Such attempts to second guess the divine Wisdom can only seem comic.

  • Perhaps, then, the argument leads us elsewhere. Perhaps it simply reminds us that religions bolster established hierarchies, and that we have a duty to reverse that malign influence. But surely today’s feast says the same? It demonstrates that, in Scripture at least, the language of lordship and sovereignty is not merely analogical but also paradoxical. Jesus is only King because he is a willing victim; and it is as a male in a patriarchy that his humiliation and victimhood is most poignant and most apparent. Surely to turn the paradox on its head and to use it to ’empower’ women, rather than to humble men, would be to subvert the kenotic message at the heart of Scripture?

At every point in such arguments we are made aware that it is foolish and dangerous to disturb the settled ecology of images which constitutes the core of the faith.  That is where angels fear to tread.

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