Monday, August 30, 2010

You'd Think the Church Would be Deemphasizing the Centrality of its Priests' Genetalia

I think Christian denominations have every right to define their own theology and religious practices, free from my interference. Nonetheless, I find the latest Catholic defense of barring women from priesthood to be a little baffling:
Barring women from being Catholic priests is not the result of sexism 2,000 years ago, it's because women cannot fulfill a basic function of the priesthood, "standing in the place of Jesus," a leading British Catholic thinker argued Monday.

"This teaching is not at all a judgment on women's abilities or rights. It says something about the specific role of the priest in Catholic understanding - which is to represent Jesus, to stand in his place," argued Father Stephen Wang in a statement sent out by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.
The bottom line is that Jesus chose 12 men - and no women - to be his apostles, Wang argues.

The choice was "deliberate and significant, not just for that first period of history, but for every age," Wang says.

Men and women are equal in Christianity, he continues, but "this does not mean that our sexual identity as men and women is interchangeable. Gender is not just an accident."

He compared the role of a priest to that of an actor playing King Arthur or British soccer star Wayne Rooney in a movie.

"No one would be surprised if I said I wanted a male actor to play the lead," he said, admitting the analogy was "weak."

But, he said, "it shouldn't surprise us if we expect a man to stand 'in the person of Christ' as a priest, to represent Jesus in his humanity - a humanity that is not sexually neutral."

Indeed, that analogy is weak. But more fundamentally, I have to think one can believe that sex is not interchangeable while still not considering a critical component of Jesus' human representation to be his penis (why not his height or -- let's have some fun, shall we? -- skin color? Would you hire George Clooney to play Magic Johnson? On second thought, don't answer that). If I were a Christian, I'd find that message to be incredibly degrading. The essential Jesus: universal love, global salvation, and a cock.

But whatever. I'm an interested spectator in this fight, no more.


Jack said...

The egg shell stepping in this post was interesting. Would you feel more comfortable bashing the religious establishment if a similar argument was made against Orthodox women rabbis? (Obviously it wouldn't be about standing in for Jesus).

The Church's position is certainly sexist but I'm not sure what you find baffling about the defense. The argument makes exactly as much sense as the justification for any theological doctrine or religious ritual. The spouting of total nonsense is hardly limited to the Catholic church (or to Christianity). To paraphrase Jesus: Let he who is without sins of logic and reason in matters of God cast the first stone.

David Schraub said...

I think it is clearly wrong to not allow women to serve as Rabbis, and think that theologically-dressed-up sexism is the only justification for it. Which is why I belong to denomination of Judaism which has ordained female Rabbis for quite some time now.

joe said...

And what's up with transubstantiation? It's physically impossible, and I think I'd notice if I were swallowing blood!

Which is to say, I agree with Jack. I don't know how one might go about divining, pardon the pun, which religious rules are just old superstitions and which ones God(s) really want from us. Unless of course we acknowledge that social norms are often codified by those with power or charisma as religious law so those norms can outlive their natural lifespan, that and every religious rule reflects such a norm.

Some might argue that we can strip things down to some core teachings springing from revelations or visions that someone claimed to have had, and maybe start a few traditions that aren't strictly necessary but that we currently think are a good idea. But we'd still be taking it on faith that those folks were both honest and accurate, so I fail to see how that's different than taking it on faith that a priest needs to be male or celibate, save that one is more offensive to current social norms than the other.

Of course, as a non-believer I'd be perfectly happy if everyone just shopped around for niche religions that matched whatever they already happen to believe. But at that point why even bother bringing God(s) into it? (Though I guess it would still make sense to outwardly promote your beliefs as set of God-made rules to make the world as you happen to think It Ought To Be.)

But I can't really expect that people who do not share my non-belief will so freely adjust their conceptions of the Word of God(s), dependent as they are on faith for the undergirding of their belief systems.

N. Friedman said...

To an extent, I sympathize with David's view. Men and women ought be equals, at home, in public life and in spiritual matters. Notwithstanding my beliefs, I am at a loss to see why Catholicism, with its own traditions, canonical law and symbols, would much care to follow that path.

From a Catholic point of view, such a demand must appear to be a demand far beyond secularization, secularization being the process of driving religion from the public square. David, like many others, would take the matter further, advancing the mores of the public square into matters of private religious worship.

I might ask: with all the noxious religious beliefs that exist, why ought the Catholic view that the priesthood should be male matter to a non-believer? Perhaps, a more important focus might be on the religious view that any one religion is the one true religion that is or ought be the property of all mankind, with an important mission of the believer to bring that religion to all corners of the earth, so that wrong beliefs shall be no more. This is not a problem merely of one religion, by the way, but it is, unlike the belief in the male priesthood, a major cause of conflict and suffering.

sonicfrog said...

The guys name is "Wang".... Heh!!!!!

God, this is dumb and pathetic. BUT, when you compare arguments, this does at least make more sense than the gender differences argument put forth to defend the ban on same sex marriage.

Jack said...

"I think it is clearly wrong to not allow women to serve as Rabbis, and think that theologically-dressed-up sexism is the only justification for it. Which is why I belong to denomination of Judaism which has ordained female Rabbis for quite some time now."

Right, I know you do. I guess my question is something like: Are you more comfortable criticizing Orthodox Judaism than Christianity because the former is closer to your own religion? Or is Orthodox sufficiently distinct from Conservative that you're just an interested observer with regard to the doctrines of Orthodox Judaism as well.

(I wasn't accusing you of anything, David. Just trying to get a feel for the inter-religious tolerance thing as someone who is anti-religion.)

David Schraub said...

I consider disputes over Orthodox Jewish practice to be intramural, though I suspect they would disagree (not accepting me as an "insider", so to speak).