Friday, August 28, 2009

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and I go to Mass

A couple of months back, I got a copy of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Touching Feeling (2003) and managed to start reading it in the last few days. For some time now I've also been doing a very common almost daily Mass at the cathedral in town. Because I've been working the last two to three weeks, I've been pretty much going to the evening 5.10pm Mass which is held in the little chapel. I must admit I quite like that chapel. It's a great place to stop during the day and just sit in the silence for a while. When I say silence, it's more a muffling of the sounds of the city but I can just sit there for ages and the muffling helps to give an impression of the city sounds almost as a musical performance. I must admit to a Brian Eno-ish ability at times to hear music in the day to day sounds of life. Sitting in the silence of this chapel provides a space to pick up on the music of the city. And often you can cut right through that to the silence underneath.

And so I enjoy Mass in the chapel because of the small scale and intimate quality of the place. And perhaps that intimate quality means that people get to know each other there in a way that wouldn't happen in the cathedral proper. The pews can seat four people closely but usually it's only three and often two in a pew. So you get recognised if you're a regular. I reached that stage a short while ago and as I'm there after work, mostly union work, I get the odd appreciative comments on my union T-shirts, especially those with a Your Rights at Work theme.

Last week I was at Mass with my flatmate and a mutual friend who is much younger than either of us. He's been doing theological studies and as I'm a biblical scholar we've had a few discussions on matters biblical. So last week we three were at Mass, three in the pew, young biblical studies friend between my flatmate and I. Come the sign of peace, my biblical studies friend and I hug. I will hug friends, often kiss them, at the sign of peace. One of the other regulars, who always sits in the pew in front, I recall commenting at the time about "the bear hug" as he put it. He had made appreciative comments on the union T-shirts so I didn't make too much of it at the time.

This evening, waiting for the Mass to begin, he approached me and offered me a flyer. I unfolded it and perused it; it seemed to be a list of events. He then said it was from Courage. Courage is a kind of Catholic ex-gay group. I say 'kind of' because it does not claim to try and change people into heterosexuals but rather to help people live a non-sexual life. Still, its goal is to get queer people to internalise official Church teaching on homosexuality and to try to live according to that. (Although, Courage UK underwent a complete change and is now a LGBT affirming organisation of Catholics, something yet to happen with Courage Australia) Consequently I gave it back saying that I knew of Courage and was not interested. And, of course, I'm not. His response was something to the effect of 'you can still dialogue with it'. To which I replied that I could dialogue but could not agree with it. At that stage the Mass started.

But I reflected on the fact that he had made an assumption based on the 'bear hug' he'd witnessed the week before, even though I generally assume that I don't look all that straight to begin with. The added irony is that my young biblical studies friend is not gay at all and is in a relationship with a woman, no doubt a fact that would shock my would be converter. Presumably he takes the 'bear hug' as a sign of erotic friendship, after all real men don't hug like that do they? And I was reminded of what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick had to say about homosexual panic, the fear that one's bonds might be homosexual, or perceived to be homosexual. She identifies this dynamic as one particularly applying to men (although I have no doubt it also applies with women) so as to prevent ties of affection and solidarity amongst men. It is a regime by which men police themselves and others and regime resting always on the threat of violence. It is the regime of the closet.

I have been planning a series of posts based on my Mass attendance which I would call My Adventures with the Daily Lectionary. And this piece is one that could fit that series. I must admit I was quite taken aback by this approach, this Courage proselytising move. It was like a kind of violation and also a breach of the intimacy of the chapel space, an intimacy that relies in large part, paradoxically on a type of anonymity. The weekday Masses in the cathedral bring together a fascinating array of people. The religious studies scholar in me is often fascinated into observing the people and their performances around me. Some of it can be quite strange, dare I say even a tad queer. But it is religion alive, often a religion not quite subservient to the official approved forms. It strikes me that there are some rather strange life journeys unfolding around me and no doubt there are those who think I represent a very strange life journey too. The anonymity provides a space where everyone can be at home with their own journey. And that being-at-home-ness feeds the sense of intimacy.

So this attempted intevention marked a rupture of the being-at-home aura, a rupture that represented an attempt at enforcing the normative, a normative that is always hetero. This heteronormativity was further reinforced when the Mass began. Unfortunately, the Cathedral has instituted the practice of the Leaven Hour, once a month. The Leaven Hour is billed as a "place for youth and young adults to experience growth and energy through the power of mass and adoration" I term it the Hillsong mass. The music is all from Hillsong and so it's designed to manipulate the emotions. Tonight there was a female guitarist and a not especially attractive young male on keyboards to support the singing. Quite downmarket compared to Hillsong's production values but enough to make a presence in the small space (a couple of people actually raised their arms in the air). Generally the Leaven Hour Mass is celebrated by a 'young' priest and the one tonight was a definite go-getter, confident in his male power. He sounded like he came from Hillsong and in his sermon even spoke of the need to have a deep 'personal encounter with Jesus Christ', a not very Catholic concept at all.

The main thrust of his sermon was about sex and controlling sexual drives. It was a rah rah heroic exhortation to the young to be strong in the Holy Spirit and not give into the pagan ways around us. It was based on the first reading of the day from 1 Thessalonians 4.1-8, in which Paul warns his community not to be like the pagans around them and give in to lust. The priest really overdetermined the binary of lustful pagans, sex drive out-of-control, over against pure in-control Christians. The reading and the sermon seemed to follow on from the initial approach I had received, almost to intensify the effect. One part of me was thinking 'is this a set up'? But of course today is the feast of St Augustine and no doubt someone determined that the old erotophobe's day should be marked with that reading from Paul. Perhaps even without any sense of irony.

But for a moment then I could see the dynamics of homosexual panic at work in a very direct way and, in the context of the Hillsong songs and the Hillsong mode of address that the priest had used from the start of the Mass, the heteronormative was put front and centre. This is one appropriation dynamics that I hope fails. Excruciatingly the Mass was followed by exposition accompanied by more Hillsong songs and so I beat a hasty retreat into the reassuringly at-home gloom of the Cathedral proper to light some candled prayers before heading off for the evening walk home along the river, my other cathedral space.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Que(e)ry Everything - My Queer Radio Days

This weekend just gone I spent doing a workshop learning how to make digital stories. It was rather fun and also quite intense. It's Monday night and I'm still feeling tired. We were mostly working in Windows Movie Maker and I made a little video about my days in Queer Radio on 4ZZZ here back in the 90s. I chose it because that's the photos I had courtesy of Facebook. I had to write a little text/script and then record that and combine with the images to make the video. It was a strange exercise in down memory lane. And today I popped into the Queer Room at UQ to hang out for a short while. I hope to pop in more regularly this semester. But it was really strange being there and not knowing anyone there. For a moment I felt a little bit like a ghost. But the room itself still had lots of stuff from the past and so I could also feel the ghosts or the presences of so many people.

Anyway, I thought tonight I'd put up the script from my little digital story effort from the weekend. There were all manner of constraints like time but also the selection of images I had that would illustrate it. I'll pop in a couple of them here too. So here for you is my little walk down memory lane:

Ever since I was young I harbored a secret desire to be in radio. I never expected that starting university as a mature age student in 1992 would let me fulfill that desire. An out gay man, I had come to university to have a rest after working with the Qld AIDS Council for several years. At university, I got involved straight away with Gays and Lesbians on Campus and ended up being elected President 2nd semester 1992.

My friend and predecessor, Jeff Ward, was one of the two regular announcers on 4ZZZ’s Queer Radio program, the latest incarnation of many years of lesbian/gay broadcasting on Triple Z. The other announcer was Gai Lemon. Gai and Jeff had transformed the older Gay Waves format into the new Queer Radio and remained the lynchpins for the next couple of years. The program ran two out of every three weeks, the third week being the then separatist Lesbian Show. Queer Radio represented a new radical and coalitionist politics which was energizing the Brisbane lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in the years following homosexual law reform in 1990.nd semester 1992.

In late ’92, Queer Radio was running a regular series on Faith and sexuality. Because I was doing a Religion double major, Jeff invited me to come in and be interviewed on air. It was all pretty informal. Triple Z had not long acquired the old Communist Club premises in St Paul’s Tce and was still fitting it out. The studios were still being built and so broadcasts were done from a space at the end of a corridor and overlooking Barry Pde with all its intrusive traffic noise. All manner of cables and wiring hung from the ceiling and everywhere there was clutter. The interview was a lot of fun and Jeff asked me to come back the following week to talk some more. I came back but we never really did that second interview. Instead I found myself becoming involved with the show and I kept coming back for the next few years.

By early ’93, the studios were finally finished and some sort of order emerged out of the structural chaos. However, I would soon be caught up in a new very creative and enriching chaos. A gorgeous baby dyke and student activist from QUT, EJ, had also joined us. Even though there was a 20 years age difference between us EJ and I hit it off like a house on fire. We ended up doing a Saturday morning breakfast shift together for a short time in 1994. But EJ and I encouraged queer folk from our own campus groups to get involved in Queer Radio. In next to no time Queer Radio became the best night out in town. Our shows become more and more outrageous and fun and many a week there would be as many as 20 – 30 people in at the station for the show. Not all of them were students either. Often listeners would drop in and get involved too. And we always had things for people to do if they dropped in. From reading the Triple Z Accommodation Notices to doing the weekly Gay and Lesbian News to all manner of other little spots, everyone had a chance to get their 5 minutes of radio fame.

One of the most surprising people to get involved was Fr Theo. He was the parish priest at St Albans, the Anglican parish at Auchenflower. Theo flew the rainbow flag outside his church and advertised his services in the gay press. He would usually come in once a month and participate in the show.

But we didn’t only welcome people coming in to get involved. We would also get out and about recording and documenting local community events and political activism. In 1993, Courier Mail columnist, Lawrie Kavanagh, wrote an extremely nasty homophobic piece in the Courier Mail. It was not unusual for him to engage in a bit of poofterbashing when he had nothing better to write about. A bunch of us queer folks went off to demonstrate outside the Courier Mail premises, then over at Bowen Hills. Queer Radio was there to document it as well as participate in it. I went around with a little tape recorder interviewing people to play on air. The demonstration culminated in a die-in outside the Courier Mail. We queers got our point across to the paper and Lawrie Kavanagh never wrote a homophobic piece again.

That’s just one small example of the amazing energy of those days, an energy that found its focus and expression in Queer Radio. I summed up that spirit in my sign off at the end of each show – “and remember to Queery everything!”

Images: Gai Lemon

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Winter days, winter nights?

We've actually had a winter this year in Brisbane but it appears that it's finally run its course. Today was quite a lovely day, not quite as warm as I expected although the evening was warmer. I'd been to the 5pm Mass at St Mary's but rather than get the bus all the way home, I got off in the City and walked back along the River Walk. But I was quite surprised how warm it was walking back, perhaps the captured daytime heat being radiated back from the cliffs?

I rather like the River Walk at night time as most of the cyclists have called it quits by then and there aren't all that many joggers either. Mostly walkers and the occasional folks fishing. The main drawback is that the City Cat ferries are on the night timetable and so there is only the chance of one or two going past while you're walking. I'm just a big kid at heart and the thing I love about the River Walk is that most of the way to New Farm it's on pontoons floating on the river itself. When a City Cat or other large and relatively fast moving boat goes by, the pontoons start undulating with the wake. I still remember the first time I experienced it, I got a real thrill out of it and I still do. So walking home on a weeknight evening during the peak hour rush can be quite a buzz as there's liable to be several ferries going by both ways. And so I can have regular bouts of walking up and down with the waves as the pontoons rise and fall. And why I love the feeling, I just don't know. But it is a simple and delightful pleasure nonetheless. Perhaps it is the feeling of being just like a kid again and enjoying something so simple with utter delight.

The next two weeks look like being very busy with me. Both weeks the Mondays are teaching days and then Tuesdays to Thursdays both weeks I'll be fully committed working with the NTEU at Griffith University. And then next weekend I'm attending a two day workshop on making digital stories at the State Library so I'm thinking this space could be a bit quiet for a while. That's as a result of my new role as convenor of the LGBT History Action Group at QAHC. So even if I did want to write something it could only be at night and I suspect I could be too tired (mind you it hasn't stopped me blogging even if it means I am falling asleep over the laptop).

But I do have some topics I want to write about. I really want to write more about Joshua the book and explain a little of what I mean when I say that readings that assume it's a straightforward story about invasion and genocide are likely to have been taken in by a surface narrative device and missed some of the more interesting and strange aspects that work to undermine such certain interpretations. And if I write on Joshua, then I'll have to write on Judges, not least because it opens giving a very (even more?) non-triumphalistic version of the events in Joshua. And I really want to say some more on Judges as carnival, a crazy topsy turvy world which bears little relationship to any history. I also want to write something on same sex love in Lord of the Rings. It's a trilogy that abounds with male-male love both within and across species and not necessarily couplist either. Mention of same sex love reminds me that I should do some thing more on adelphopoiesis and sworn friendships. I have also been reading some Aelred of Rievaulx and want to write something on that. And I still have to write something on prophecy.

But I can't see it possible in the next couple of weeks. What I might do is put up pointers to some of the interesting material you can find on my blog roll. I was checking out The Dunedin School this morning and there's some good stuff there that I reckon you should do yourselves a favour by exploring. And that's just one blog, albeit a group one, which gives it greater chances for consistently interesting reading. I might even consider a guest post or two. So if any of you feel an ovewelming desire to adorn my blog page with your thoughts drop me line and I'll see what we can arrange.

Otherwise I'll do what I can to keep this site interesting.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Some more notes on Bible and History

There's generally not a lot of commentary in this blog. I do however post most entries on my Facebook page and often there's a bit of discussion there. People who know me will often email me comments as well. And so late last month I received this comment on my Bible and history posts. I responded then that it was something I should take up on my blog and tonight I'm finally giving it a go.

The other thing I'd briefly say is re that vexed question of truth and the OT, it could almost be summed up in the odd old proverb "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear". If the OT has no real truth historically while Jesus is about the fulfillment of a historical promise-cum-revelation and he sees himself as to some extent incarnate in that past history, one can't then easily maintain his truth is as good as the negation of that same history. Lies, falsehoods and distortions can't produce Truth-in Itself and although there is such a thing as mythic truth it's only because we understand truth to fact that we can even assume such a notion as a more elastic mythic truth exists. I realize you don't like, perhaps even detest, the book of Joshua and I won't deny it has its difficulties for us

There are a number of issues here but I think the key one revolves around Jesus and his relationship to the collections of texts known as Old Testament. Even with that statement I had to pause because there are a number of ways that it could be qualified, not least because there was no such thing as an Old Testament let alone Jewish Bible in Jesus' day. Both were constructed by Christians and Jews in the years centuries after Jesus' execution (there still is and never has been a definitive Christian Old Testament while the Jewish Bible was probably standardised by the 3rd or 4th centuries CE). Nevertheless we can say that in the first century there was a world of authoritative text and story that we can call biblical or scriptural. Probably the heart of this world was Torah, the 5 books of Moses, shared by Jew and Samaritan alike. Psalms and David were also important for Jews, as well as Isaiah and, for many, 1 Enoch (from the evidence at Qumran).

Part of the problem is that Jesus seems to accept the validity of most of these stories. He talks about Moses and Abraham and Noah as if they were real people. He talks about David and Solomon in the same way and even claims some kind of descent from David. But if David and Solomon weren't real people and neither were Moses and Abraham and Noah well then what do we say about Jesus? Because if Jesus is divine isn't he supposed to be omniscient? Why isn't he speaking like a modern historian or archeologist or even a modern biblical scholar? It's a bit like the creationists. Despite their claims, they aren't the least bit interested in the verbal inerrancy of Genesis 1 or Genesis 2. Nope it's the Gospel inerrancy that concerns them especially those passages where Jesus seems to talking about Adam and Eve, Noah etc as if all of that is real. In other words we don't have any texts in which Jesus speaks like a modern evolutionary biologist or a palaeontologist or a geologist.

But even more importantly is the fact that Jesus claims to be some kind of fulfilment of the stories and other literary materials that we term Old Testament. His claims are grounded in them so what do we make of that? Surely if these stories didn't actually happen but are instead fiction what does that make of Jesus' claims?

I'll attempt some kind of answer by responding to the allegation that I 'don't like' even 'detest' the book of Joshua. Now I wouldn't be the first person to be troubled by Joshua. It has sat like a fishbone in the throat of Christianity for centuries. And lets face it, if Joshua was a straightforward no holds barred historical account, then there is no alternative from a human, from a Christian perspective but to condemn it as a brutal and genocidal text. And tragically it is a text that has been used to give warrant to genocide, in the Americas, in Australia and now in Palestine.

But I don't detest Joshua, although there was a time when I might have done. However when I realised that reading it as history was the wrong way to read it that I came to appreciate that this text is so much richer than a simple catalogue of events. Reading it as history actually misses the point because one very striking pattern is the play between who is in this Israel and who isn't. What is this Israel is the central issue of the book. Because the other surprise that happens when reading Joshua as story not history is that all of a sudden you see that the text is constantly undermining any notion of a 'pure' Israel. At the beginning we meet a unified homogenous Israel. At the end, Israel is merged, blended with the people of the land while religiously it is indistinguishable from them. The Israelites are worshipping the Baals and Astoreths of their neighbours as Greek Joshua declares at its conclusion. It's almost as if Joshua knows that Israelites once were Canaanites and is determined to make sure that we the readers know that fact. Fro that perspective Joshua is forcing us to face up to the othering processes we humans engage in to create communities, to determine who is inside and who is outside. I still hope to write something on the Girardian processes in the book of Joshua.

The real history lies in the texts themselves not the stories they contain. The texts represent a process of cultural/religious transformation in the Levant/Palestine over the preceding centuries. It was that transformation that set the preconditions for Jesus. Without that transformation there could have been no Christ event, pure and simple. So Jesus does represent a fulfilment. He's not the only one, there's also the Mishnah and the Memar Markah. The processes of transformation these texts represent include a range of trajectories, some of which find in Jesus a major turning point at which they become Christian trajectories.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Some Thoughts on Human Brokenness

On Wednesday, I was able to catch up with my friend. It was good to be with him and talk about a whole lot of stuff. But this is not a post about him or our day together but rather I'm flagging two areas which we discussed together because they were areas I had been thinking of writing about for some time. One of them, the state of universities and academic life, is something I've had requests to write about on Facebook threads recently since I began a very short term gig with the NTEU this week (and which really kicks into earnest next week), But I'm not going to write about that tonight.

My friend and I also spent some time talking about what would comprise our ideal church. This was also something I had been wanting to explore here as a follow on from my posts on St Mary's. But there was something my friend said the other day, a quality of his ideal church, which I wanted to explore here but which probably wont stay focussed on the ideal church at all. In fact I know it's going to take me into matters biblical and beyond but that's one of the good things about the blog medium is that when you start a post you never quite know where you're going to end up. That's my experience anyway.

An essential quality of my friend's ideal church had to do with the clergy and it was that they readily acknowledge their own brokenness, that being broken is part of being human. To be human is to screw up - we aren't God and we aren't perfect and we shouldn't pretend that we are. But, of course, for clergy all too often rather than acknowledging brokenness they model authoritativeness, control, expertise, capability, power. And after all, they are in leadership positions, they are the religious 'expert', they've spent several years in training. And clergy in Catholic traditions have the additional awesome charisms of consecration of the bread and wine in the liturgy and absolution of sins/screw-ups. To acknowledge brokenness, to even model brokenness, then, would appear to fly in the face of everything they represent.

However I was struck by the sense that part of the power of biblical religion, part of the power of the biblical texts, whether they are are Old Testament or New, lies in the fact that human brokenness is front and centre in shaping the narratives, is a key component of all the characters we encounter in the stories there. David, the hero everyone loves (and David means beloved) including God, including the Samaritans (as I was surprised to discover when reading their alternative history of Israel), David stuffs up in a big way with Bathsheba and Uriah and also with Absalom, Tamar and Amnon. And it's not just David. Moses stuffs up and is barred from entering the Promised Land. Both Abraham and Sarah stuff up. Jacob stuffs up, Jacob is the consummate trickster. Jacob's sons stuff up too and his daughter in law, Tamar, makes a virtue out of a major stuff up. The Israelites themselves are always stuffing up. (Curiously, one character doesn't seem to stuff up and that is Joshua so much so that later rabbinic tradition had to reinvent Joshua as the klutz who started forgetting the law from the day Moses died, thus leading the Israelites astray. A very poignant midrash has Achan accuse Joshua of breaching the Law in the way he conducts the proceedings that lead to Achan's subsequent execution). Now this focus on human stuffed-upness, human brokenness serves an ideological purpose on the part of the Old Testament authors (who I think were, amongst other things abjecting the past as a way to explain Israel's situation as subject to Gentiles and dispersed amongst the nations and also to bolster the claims of particular Temples for pre-eminence). Nevertheless the stories turned out to be bigger than the ideological imperatives of their creation. Thus they still have power today in a very different world and very different cultural settings.

The New Testament, too, further develops these themes of the stuffed up nature of being human. Peter, Paul, the Prodigal Son, the woman caught in adultery, Judas, Mary Magdalen, all of these and more are anti-heroic characters. They are all broken, they are all human. And thus they speak to us, resonate with us, enable us to see ourselves in all our flawed beauty.

Anti-heroism is also a key component in the Lord of the Rings which my flatmate has been watching again this week. I've been watching some of it with him and hence its appearance in this post. Sure there's lots of battle scenes and deeds of heroism but the main action, the crucial action revolves around the unlikely triad of Frodo, Sam and Smeagol/Gollum. Frodo is an anti-hero who is bound to Gollum in a shared experience of creeping corruption, nay destruction at the hands of the Ring of Power. Ironically, it is Gollum who saves the day in the end because he is so gone, so destroyed by the Ring that he no longer thinks of his own safety and survival. Sam of course is driven mad by his disgust at, even jealousy of Gollum who clearly is a focus of Frodo's pity if not love (perhaps because Frodo sees himself in Gollum). As a reader, I was often exasperated by Sam's inablity to understand Gollum, his inability to feel some sort of empathy for Gollum. And if there is one thing that I found remarkable about the story (apart from the extraordinary celebration of love between/among males) it was the capacity for us to see Gollum as a fellow creature, broken stuffed up, like ourselves, to see ourselves in Gollum. I certainly could anyway and could feel not just pity but empathy for this creature. And not just these three, LotR abounds in characters who are flawed and broken. Many of them are destroyed by it, especially if they are the great and the good, and others muddle on through working some good despite (or because of) their brokenness.

LotR is thus a very biblical text and perhaps that's where its appeal and its power lies. Despite the veneer of sword and sorcery, its real power lies in its graphic portrayal of human (and elven and dwarvish and hobbit and entish and wizard) brokenness. Likewise the biblical texts, because in them we can find a mirror for ourselves as flawed stuffed up beings, quite the antithesis of what capitalism values and to the way patriarchal masculinities are constructed. The greatest insult in a capitalist world is 'loser'. But the reality is most of us are losers because only a handful can win under the law of capitalism. Patriarchal masculinity decrees that we males be tough, in control, invulnerable, impenetrable and capitalism gives the added imperative to compete, to get to the top, by trampling on our neighbours if need be. By doing so of course we deny our own feelings, our mutual dependence; we become the enforcers of a system that enslaves us, a system that doesn't want us to see our own frailties, our own stuffed-upness, our mutual vulnerability lest we turn away from its delusions and even worse develop a real solidarity.

Perhaps then a key way of reading the biblical texts for the purposes of liberation is to explore the way they reveal us, reflect us in our frailties, our vulnerabilities, our brokenness. And not to condemn either but to understand, to empathise, yes, to love.

And hope I have done justice here to my friend's insight.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Philip Davies: Watch Your Language

Thanks to Jim West for this. As Jim says, Philip Davies is "a delightful and enjoyable scholar" and in this piece "writes a delightful and thoroughly enjoyable op-ed on scholars and the language they use."

It's from Bible and Interpretation and here's a sample:

Here is one of my original proposed dictionary entries (p. 333):


(a) A probably fictitious entity supposedly composed of the elements of two nation-states formed in Palestine during the Iron II period under the kings David and Solomon

(b) The name given to a kingdom centered in the Ephraimite hill country of Palestine between the end of the 10th and the end of the 8th centuries BCE, possibly deriving its name from a group mentioned in the MERNEPTAH STELE.

This entry greatly oversimplified the issue: the Israels that the biblical writers offer us are more varied and variegated: the books of Deuteronomy, Kings, Ezekiel, Chronicles, and Ezra, for instance, all differ on what “Israel” includes (make up your selection from Samarians, Judeans, and Judeans claiming to be returned from exile, proselytes, gerim). It is now clearer, too, that Judah and Israel probably originated independently, developed independently and, though closely associated during their history (by temporary political union and vassalage), were at their demise antagonistic neighbors.

So go and read the rest.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ending the Tyranny of Marriage

Well, my original post on same sex marriage made a bit of a splash not so much here but around the intertubes. It got posted around Facebook and even ended up on Catholica. Some people liked it and some people didn't. One critic took me to task not only for the ideas but for using big words. No problem, I knew what I had to say wouldn't be popular with a lot of people.

What I want to do in this post is to sketch some thoughts about how to break down the tyranny of marriage under which we all labour or at least to suggest some possibilities for a plenitude as opposed to a singularity for our affectional lives and affiliations. I'll start with the civil sphere but will turn my attention to the religious sphere or should I say ceremonial sphere, illustrated in a Christian context about how to implement such a plenitude.

Many of the responses made in support of me focused on the religious background of marriage and why should the State be enforcing a religious institution rather than one of it's own. They argued that the State should institute a civil partnership scheme for all and if people wanted a marriage they could go to their church/place of worship afterwards for one. Well, such a regime already exists in France and probably other European countries and their civil partnerships are called marriages and work under the marriage model. So it's not really an improvement.

In fact, I think part of the problem is that people think of marriage as primarily a religious institution. It's not, it's a very old cultural institution and a patriarchal one to boot. Religion is involed because religion is part of culture. Indeed it came as quite a surpise for to discover how recently marriage had become 'religionised' and universalised in Western European culture. For most people in medieval Europe cohabitation, if marked religiously, was accompanied by either a blessing at the church doorstep prior to Sunday Mass or even just the posting of the banns of marriage at the church entrance. Marriage was a family affair - it marked the joining of families not individuals - and, as still applies in India today and throughout the ancient world, it was an event celebrated and solemnised by families. In medieval Europe the aristocracy and the wealthy were the ones who would have a full Church wedding because their status brought into play property, legitimacy and power issues that didn't apply to the ordinary peasantry.

It's the Reformation that marks a major change, at least ideologically. The Reformers saw marriage as a crucial part of the godly order they were trying to implement. The Roman Church in response finally defined marriage as a sacrament and saw itself as the implementer of marriage. The Revolution in France put paid to that. The State took over the role of the Church as the guarantor of marriage a function it maintains to this day as I have already observed. In the UK it was different because there the Church was a State institution already. I was also very surprised to discover that it wasn't until the 18th century that the British Parliament mandated marriage for all in the Anglican Church as the only legitimate way to marry/cohabit, with the exception of Jews and, I believe, Quakers. The State is here basically subcontracting to the Church, its agent, in this model.

So there is nothing specifically religious about marriage even if it becomes invested with a suite of religious ideologies. And in capitalist society marriage has taken front and centre as the main vehicle for our affectional and our erotic lives. Marriage or a marriage like relationship is the goal held up for all of us for fulfilment.

In many respects then civil unions/partnerships are really a form of marriage lite. They're couplist and exclusive and relate to cohabitation. At the same time, I like the idea and I believe that since they were introduced in NZ they've been taken to by many mixed sex couples as well as same sex ones. Sadly though it appears the UK's civil partnerships are only available for same sex couples. In this country the whole civil union thing is bogged down in the processes to try and keep it from looking like marriage lite so it's still to really get off the ground. But even if it is marriage lite it, it's still an advance on marriage. The other important thing is to make sure there is an intenational framework for recognising civil unions as there is with marriage.

At this stage I think that is about as far as the State will go. I personally rather like the idea of mutual adoption but adoption laws vary so much from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and are really geared towards adoption of children. I don't know if many jurisdictions actually make provision for adult adoption. But the mention of mutual adoption takes me straight into the realm of religion because of the rediscovery by John Boswell of the rites for making brothers or sisters, adelphopoieia, that were practiced in the Eastern Church and seem to have counterparts in the medieval Western Church. Boswell claimed that they were rites for joining same sex couples in an analogous way to say civil unions. Instead these are rites that seem to have someothing to do with adoption of what we might term blood brotherhood. In the Balkans they clearly brought families into relationship in a similar way to marriage. But while I think Boswell was wrong there, I think he would be on firmer ground for suggesting that these rites might have been used by same sex lovers as a way to bless their relationships. We are all familiar with marriages of convenience used to mask one's sexuality. I can easily imagine that some such could work the other way with adelphopoieia. Now while these rites were gradually suppressed over time, in the Greek Church in the 19th century, it seems that there are some Eastern Churches that still use them (and it would appear that these rites are still performed in parts of the Balkans even if unofficially).

I think the time has come for these rites to be revived. No doubt it will be difficult in the Roman Church and various Orthodox Churches that have suppressed them. But they could be revived in Independent Catholic Churches and perhaps even in the Anglican Church. And more adventurous Roman and Orthodox priests should also be encouraged to at least consider celebrating them. I would certainly be much happier using a rite like this than the ghastly traditional marriage rite. The other thing about these rites is that they can cover more than just homosexual relationships. They can also cover non-sexual but homo-affectionate relationships, strong committed friendships.

And I would argue that it is about time that friendship was valued and celebrated. It's not clear from my reading whether medieval practices of sworn friendship were another form of adelphopoieia or something different. If adelphopoieia actually brought families into kinship whereas sworn friendships didn't then there is a difference already. One is kinmaking in a strong sense, the other blesses and affirms relationship without necessarily linking two kinship groups. It's time friendship was celebrated, affirmed and blessed. I'm not speaking here about solely romantic erotic same sex relationships. Imagine if two or three male or female friends wanted to celebrate their friendship and have it blessed. Imagine a world in which friendship is celebrated and honoured, including friendships between men and women!

And while I imagine the ways this could happen in a religious setting by drawing on rituals from the past, it doesn't only have to be in a religious setting. Australia now has a well established network of civil celebrants. Their main role has been to perform civil weddings. But as our culture has secularised, many of these celebrants have branched out into funerals and baby namings and same sex commitment ceremonies as well. Maybe it's time for the celebration of friendship or commitment to friendship to be added to the repertoire.

In our society, to be unmarried or not in a marriage-like relationship means to be counted as single and therefore lacking in some way. And yet so many of us singles live in a rich world of loving friendship completely discounted by mainstream society. At the same time the marriage model of two people dependent only on each other is toxic, masking as it does both the real world of friendship in which such relationships exist and on which they depend. In fact marriage in the best sense is a variety of sexual friendship with the intent of parenthood. And if marriage is to continue that really is the direction, I believe, for it to head. But marriage then must sit in a range of friendships some of which are sexual, some not and some that might be sexual at some stages and non-sexual in others. And all of them celebrated, honoured and blessed.

Left Behind Friday on Sunday

I've written before about my guilty pleasure taken in reading the sites of that American good old time rapture ready left behind religion. But it's with an even greater pleasure and no guilt at all that I read the Slacktivist site and especially Fred Clark's Left Behind Fridays series, in which Clark has heroically taken on the task of reading and critiquing the execrable series of novels bringing Left Behind theology to a mass market. Time zone differences mean that most of the time it's a Left Behind Saturday in this corner of the world. But every once in a while it'll be a bit later. This weekend it's a Left Behind Sunday. But it's been worth the wait. There have been times when I think the sheer weight of extremely poor theology and abominable misreadings of biblical texts have crushed even Fred, sapped his spirit.

But this week he's back in full form with TF: Bruce's Sermon, part 4. Superb analysis and critique combined with a few of those LOL moments, often almost ROFL. Here's a sample to whet your appetite:

Yes, he's been preaching for more than an hour already, but who cares about lunch, I just want to hear about what it means that John's vision makes no mention of a bow-string.

Bruce is still preaching. "We'll talk next week and following about the next three horsemen of the Apocalypse," he says, forgetting that he's already said this. "The rider of the white horse is the Antichrist, who comes as a deceiver promising peace and uniting the world," he continues, forgetting that he's already said this more than twice:

"The Old Testament book of Daniel -- chapter 9, verses 24 through 27 -- says he will sign a treaty with Israel."
Really? Let's look, shall we? Here is Daniel 9:24-27:
Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. "Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and 62 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the 62 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

Clear as mud, that, but that's Daniel for you.

The first six chapters of Daniel are fairly straightforward stories of Israel in exile. The final six chapters are a hallucinogenic stew of visions, numerology and wrath. That description of the second half of Daniel might also work as a description of much of Revelation, so it's not altogether unreasonable for Bruce to decide that there's some connection between the two apocalyptic nightmares, but why here? Why jump to this passage in Daniel from that passage in Revelation? What's the justification or logic or excuse?

This skipping back and forth between Revelation and Daniel is standard practice for "Bible prophecy scholars." They are, after all, reading from Scofield Reference Bibles, in which all of this cross-referencing is right there in the footnotes. Yet while this may be par for the course with prophecy preachers, it still seems to me that there are at least four reasons why Bruce's abrupt segues here from Revelation 6:2 to Daniel 9:24-27 and then back to Revelation 6, verse 3, strike me as deeply weird.

Weirder, even, than the bizarre content of the passages themselves.

First of all, there's nothing in that passage in Revelation about the horsemen that suggests any need or justification for inserting gaps into the chronology of John's strange vision.

And here's another:

You really, really don't ever want to learn enough about the esoterica of PMDism to appreciate the details of this disagreement, but it's fun to realize that Tim LaHaye isn't just using his fictional depiction of End Times events to "prove" that all non-PMDists are doomed to wrath, he also thinks this fictional depiction stands as proof that the wrong kind of PMDists are also fools and doomed to wrath. LaHaye has an ax to grind with prophecy scholars who disagree with him on the length of this allegedly prophesied peace treaty, or about when the Two Witnesses will first appear in Jerusalem, and so occasionally he turns away, briefly, from celebrating his fictional triumph over people like you and me to celebrating his fictional triumph over these dissenting PMDists.

And a last bit:

So everything we've heard so far is leading up to Bruce's big conclusion in which he explains that war is peace and peace is war. The text for his sermon warns of Conquest, War, Famine and Death***, but Bruce wants to warn his congregation that what they really have to fear is peace.

*** And also, of course, poor Hades, coming up behind on foot. Thanks to the comments from last week's LBFriday, I can no longer think of Hades in this context without getting a whole series of mental images that make me giggle. I'm fairly sure that's not the effect that John of Patmos was shooting for.

And I'll let you find the LOL moments for yourselves while I go and indulge my guilty pleasure.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Some thoughts on Queer Lineages

This is not the follow up post to the same-sex marriage one but it is sort of related. I've been thinking for some time about queer lineages. For many years now I've had a friend who is much older than me. For a long time now I've referred to him as my faerie godmother. I was about 22 when I first met him and only newly out. As I said he was much older, 25 years older, in his 40s then - he's now in his early 80s. The last few years have been quite difficult ones for him healthwise and so he and I and another friend of his my age have been having a bit of a hard time of it. Us two young uns have been his main social and often physical support for the last 6 years or so now. He's now in a retirement home but that only happened earlier this year. I won't go into the details of the health and other issues here but there were several times we almost lost him and there was a period of time when I'd be quite uncertain if I'd find him alive or dead. And there was one day, well if I hadn't turned up he probably wouldn't be with us anymore.

Anyway, back when I'd just finished the PhD, I was visiting him and talking about the plans, well hopes really, that I had and some of the issues I wanted to write about and so forth. Giddy with success I was then and brimming with optimism. But he looked at me and and said "You know I often feel like I made you." We kind of laughed about it because we are really so very different. It's not as if I'm a chip off the old block or anything like that. And we never had a My Fair Lady/Pygmalion type of thing going either. But I learnt a lot from him, from his wealth of experience. He'd lived and worked overseas for many years, a lot of it working on the passenger liners in the 50s and 60s and so had travelled most of the world. He is a rich reservoir of gay history and has been interviewed and had much of his life recorded in recent years so that such experience is not forever lost. But the documenting of that history will never replace the experience of knowing him, and he could be a difficult person to know because he didn't tolerate fools gladly. He is an atheist and an iconoclast and can tell some most outrageous stories of gay life and gay sex from years ago. And somehow we bonded. It's not that long ago that he told me that he'd been madly in love with me for many years after we met. I was flabbergasted. I had major body issues back then and didn't think much of myself despite the bravado I could put on as an out young gay man. Plus I thought I knew the type of guys he liked and I certainly wouldn't have counted myself as fitting that. But we can all surprise ourselves in that regard.

And, yes, he did make me but as I said not in a Pygmalion way and not just through sharing his experience and knowledge. He also helped me through some very rough times. When I think back on it I'm amazed at the way I turned so naturally to him when I had was in a mess or a crisis. And he willingly helped me and supported me. So I was happy that I could help him over these last few years. Well, happy is not the right word. I would have preferred that he didn't need that help and I would have preferred for him not to have been in the state he was.

I say all this because I've been reading a book of my flatmate's on the current Pope's theology. It's a fairly uncritical account and I've been trying to get through a chapter on current Roman Catholic sexual theology as represented by the teachings of the present Pope and his predecessor. The two do represent a bit of revolution in the Roman way of sex but the dominant hallmark of their position is a heterosexual essentialism. Marriage is an icon of God and all sex must be open to transmission of life - hence heterosexual marriage and vaginal sex without contraception are taken as the norm, nay, an icon of God. And it reminds me of a paper presented at a conference I was at many years ago. Ironically the paper was presented by a Catholic priest involved with the AIDS Council. I say ironic because it examined the links between homophobia and the fear of death, death denial. And lets face it, Western society is pretty death denying. And what's more, the one sure thing about homosexual sex, homosexual lovemaking is that there is no way that it can ever be reproductive. Marriage is all about progeny as well as property and patriarchy. The great drive for progeny is the investment in continuity and immortality, socially and individually. Homosexual, homophilic men and women challenge that reproductive imperative and challenge the death denial by embracing what society sees as sterile relationships.

Over the last few years, with my elderly I've become aware as to how he and I stand outside the lineage system. I'm not kin. Whenever there was a drama needing paramedics or such, it became clear that I was not kin and therefore this strange person kindly helping out. Sometimes I'd receive real expressions of surprise about my being there and helping him. I, of course, felt as close, if not closer than any next of kin, none of whom I've met.

But, of course, there is a lineage, a different sort of lineage, one based on love and affection. There's nothing biological or genetic about it, it's not even sexual, so we don't get included in any same sex marriage aura if it was to eventuate, or civil unions for that matter. And I wonder about the queer lineages of love, friendship and desire (and lets face it these regularly overlap) the lineages that don't get recognised because they're not, in societal terms, seeking to cheat death. In times gone past you'd often see the older queens and dykes with entourages of younger ones. They would be bound by friendship, which might often turn sexual, at least for a time, but often would not. Like my elderly friend, the older would support and advise the younger ones, be a role model. That person might in their youth have been part of similar entourages.

What's thrown all these issues into even sharper relief for me lately is a friendship I have with someone a lot younger than me. We've been friends for a few years now; last year circumstances were such we didn't see much of each other. Not so this year and we've seen quite a bit of each other. One of the very strong features of this friendship has been the exchange of ideas between us which is also why I've been reflecting a lot more on the queer dimensions of pedagogical eros (or the pedagogical dimensions of queer love). And pedagogy has it's own lineages, non-biological lineages of the intellect. But with my friend I experienced for the first time the strange sensation of what I might term, rather clunkily, heirship. It's hard for me to get my head around clearly, to find the words to explain., because it's still a very new experience for me. Our interaction is not unidirectional, it's not me passing on to him the passive receptor. It's also not as if I have anything material to bequeath him (except for lots of books I suppose) but then I don't intend to exit this mortal coil for a while yet. But would I stand by him and support him and foster and encourage him? Yes. Am I prepared to pass on whatever I might have by way of experience and wisdom (not that I count myself all that wise)? Yes. Do I want him to challenge and question me and take whatever he can glean from me and run with it developing his own ideas and turn it into something new (do I sound a bit like old Plato here?)? Yes. And, I should add, this is not a sexual friendship and isn't going to be.

So I look at my elderly friend and wonder, is this something like what he what he felt for me, discounting for a moment the attraction he felt for me (and I've also had to deal with issues of my own desires all stirred up by the emotions fired up in me over the last few months). Is that why he fell for someone who I'm still convinced was so not his type? A confusion of desires perhaps? Was our relationship lifegiving? From the essentialist biological genetic perspective obviously not. But in any fully human way, most definitely yes. And for my younger friend I hope I can be as lifegiving and as generous and as loving as my elderly friend was with me. By so doing I will be honouring my elderly friend too. And thus are lineages built.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Welcome to my blog roll Calvinolatry and the Dunedin School

I don't know what this thing is for Calvin around the Biblioblogosphere. It's bad enough he's the focus of a book chapter I'm working on or supposed to be working on anyway when I can find a gap in my life. Believe me, I don't find Calvin pleasant company, no doubt much to Roland's and Jim's consternation. But I'm pleased to discover that James Harding down at Dunedin has now joined us all online with a new blog called Calvinolatry. So I'm adding it to my blog roll. And his first post is on the David and Jonathan story from 1 Samuel, a little taste of his excellent paper in Newcastle. And here's a little snippet

But here's an interesting thought. Would Zehnder have offered the disclaimer had he been exegeting Ezek 16; 23? Would his implied reader be as offended by the language there as by David's imaginary hard-on in 1 Sam 20:41 and Jonathan's mythical membrum virilis in 2 Sam 1:22? Would the same implied reader be more offended by talk of men whose "cocks were like those of stallions" (Ezek 23:20) or by the just God having his daughter/wife stripped and thrown to enemy soldiers to be raped? Whose genitals need protecting and from whom?

James is from the University of Otago in Dunedin and he and some of the others there have set up a group blog called the Dunedin School which I've also added to my blog roll. It was set up last month and they even have me in their blog roll but no one bothered to tell me. I've only had a skim through but it looks like some really excellent stuff there.

Also I really like Fred Clark's work at Slacktivist and not just his Left Behind series (which has been going for about 6 years I think). But checking it out tonight I find a really lovely story about a preacher throwing a surprise birthday party for a prostitute in a 'greasy spoon' joint, Charity, conclusions and cake. I recommend it and here's a sample

After the party, Harry is surprised to learn that Tony is a preacher.

"What kind of church do you belong to?"

"I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning."

We can either take offense or we can give a party. It has to be one or the other, we can't do both.

I prefer the one with cake.

I'm also one for parties and I agree with Fred, I prefer the one with the cake.

And finally I was planning to write a follow-up post to my same sex marriage piece from earlier this week but the new blog additions circumvented me. I might still start it tonight but I can't see it being published tonight. But, God willing, it will be up over the weekend.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

On this day

It's August 6 and in both the Eastern and Western Churches it's the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:28-36, Mark 9:2-12, Matthew 17:1-9, c.f. 2 Peter 1:12-19). And in a sort of Satanic parody it was also on this day in 1945 that the first atomic bomb was used in warfare to incinerate the people and city of Hiroshima. Then three days later the city of Nagasaki suffered the same fate; it also scored a first too, the first plutonium bomb to be used in war. At least some 130,000 people were killed with many more to die in subsequent years from the effects of radiation.

When I was growing up there was considerable debate about the ethics of those atom bombings. The dominant voice a saying that they were necessary to force the Japanese surrender as an invasion of Japan would have cost countless deaths both Allied soldiers and Japanese. A minor voice argued that the bombings were unnecessary and that the real purpose of the bombings was to warn the Soviet Union that the US now had such weapons and was not to be trifled with in the post-war world. And other minor voices argued that the bombings could have been avoided if the Allies had tried different strategies to end the war with Japan. The Wikipedia entry on the atomic bombings seems to run with the dominant voice.

Whatever the case, these bombings remain an atrocity and remind us of what a blasphemy war is. The 20th century has the dubious distinction of being one of the most bloodthirsty of times. The art of mass killing was one of the century's key achievements, being framed as it was by genocidal campaigns, at the beginning by the Germans in Namibia against the Herero and the US in the Philippines to suppress the independence movements there and at the other end with the slaughters in Rwanda, the Balkans and Chechnya. And in the middle were the great mass slaughters of the Second World War period.

So today is Hiroshima Day, World Peace Day, a day to commit to nuclear disarmament, well, to total disarmament if I had my way. Because it's not just about bombs anymore. There's the whole question of the use of depleted uranium and the US pursuit of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons. As if the non-nuclear ones weren't bad enough. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have provided a ready theatre for all many of experimentation in warfare. Unsurprisingly, I guess. For me one of the most appalling aspects of the US response to the September 11 attacks in 2001 was the gleeful and eager way the Bush Administration from the top down declared that the US had entered the first world war of the 21st century. They were happy and excited! They had a war! They should have been wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were crimes, crimes within the greater crime that is war. May the bombs and rifles and tanks and cannons and destroyers and aircraft carriers and missiles be beaten into ploughshares and the military bases and munitions factories be razed to the ground. I'm feeling in a quite Old Testament mood right now, perhaps because of the full moon and lunar eclipse. So, because war is also a big business I have to quote this:

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

(Bob Dylan, Masters of War. Copyright ©1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music)

But more gently close with this:

And when the soldiers burn their uniforms in every land
The foxholes at the borders will be left unmanned
General, when you come for the review
The troops will have forgotten you
And the men and women of the earth shall rest
(Joan Baez, All the Weary Mothers)

And for a good Transfiguration reflection on Hiroshima click here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Why I curse John Howard, or, if Marriage is the answer you're asking the wrong question

This weekend around the country we've had rallies and protests for something called "marriage equality". I've ignored them because lets face it marriage is not about equality. But sadly, over the last couple of years, there has been this rising tide pushing lemming like for same-sex marriage. I first really became aware of it at Pride last year when there were all sorts of placards demanding the right to marry being distributed to carry in the march. I refused to carry any of them because I have a major problem with same sex marriage and I'm pleased to say I'm not alone. So many friends of mine, single and in relationships, are concerned about this marriage push. For me, it's yet another reason to curse John Howard because it was Howard more than anyone else who put marriage on the agenda for LGBT struggles and if same sex marriage becomes a reality in this country then it will be all thanks to John Howard. Back in 2004, he put through an amendment to the Marriage Act defining marriage as between a man and a woman thus ruling out same sex couples. It wasn't a principled move on Howard's part, he has none where power is concerned. No, what he wanted to achieve was the wedging of the Labor Party. Ironically, he failed to secure that but what he did do was to set the agenda for the LGBT struggle in this country. I say that because prior to 2004 marriage was not really an issue at all. Relationship recognition was, but there had been successes on various alternatives to marriage (and these also gave new rights for straight people too) and so there had been no concerted push towards same sex marriage. As friends back in the 90s put it, "queers just aren't that co-dependent."

So why am I not at all interested in "marriage equality" in this country (or anywhere for that matter)? Well, lets face it, marriage itself is not about equality. Marriage is a patriarchal institution - it's keywords are property and progeny, the latter being a specific form of property. The purpose of marriage is control of the womb and its products - that control is always male. Hence adultery is always a crime against a husband, never a wife. The womb is configured as a field and must be kept fenced in to ensure the paternity of its progeny. Pretty much all of our sexual morality is predicated on that assumption, and serves to protect the paternal lineage. The maternal lineage is at the same time disallowed, repressed.

Unsurprisingly, marriage is also about hierarchy, of male over female. Marriage celebrates the establishment of a household/family and the authority in that family is vested in the male, it's his name that the children bear, he who is, or is expected to be, the full time active agent in the world. The woman is configured as mother (to both husband and children), housekeeper and mistress. At the same time the maternal role is abjected. Our society is not organised to allow space for the maternal, hence the ongoing struggles for maternity leave and adequate child care and the recurring moral panics about single mothers, i.e. mothers who are not under the control and supervision of a man and, even worse, whose children are theirs and not connected to a paternal lineage.

Now I'm sure there are people saying that we're not like that and there are plenty of couples nowadays who try and are often successful in getting beyond such patriarchal norms. I agree. I know plenty of couples who have tried to resist and move beyond that paradigm. But I would suggest that more often than not these are moves that must be consciously embraced by the individuals and where things often come unstuck is when children arrive. Again, because our society does not value the maternal. The maternal is dangerous, it must be controlled, repressed. Most of the egalitarian marriages I know are ones where there are no children, making it easy for both partners to be on equal terms.

Of course marriage is not a static institution either. Most people don't realise but it has undergone quite major changes over the last few centuries, changes that have made it as much a capitalist institution as a patriarchal one. These changes have also put marriage front and centre in society as the defining institution for people. In the days when capitalism was in its infancy, marriage was embeedded in a broader network of relationships, biological and non-biological. As well as a network of blood-kin, a person also was part of a network of god-kin. In medieval Europe, there was also a practice of sworn friendships and sworn brotherhoods/sisterhoods. The Church rituals, that the late John Boswell and others uncovered, for making spiritual brothers or spiritual sisters were not rites for joining same sex lovers as such. I would imagine that perhaps the majority of such relationships had no clear homo-erotic component (although many would likely be homo-affectionate) but I can also imagine that many would have been. But most importantly these formalised friendships and forms of non-biological kinship meant that marriage and even parenthood was not the only or even the main significant relationship in a person's life. Marriage was a much more practical institution then, geared around the rearing of children. It was children of course who provided care and support in old age, a situation that still applies in the greater part of the world. If a husband and wife could develop a loving relationship over their lives it was considered a boon but not a requirement for a succesful marriage.

With the development of capitalism this network of relationships was progressively dismantled and done away with. The first to go in the West were the sworn friendships and rites of spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood (although they continued on in Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans, up until the late 19th century). Similarly the networks of god-kin were dismantled. At the same time the household was progressively transformed into the nuclear family. In the houses of the wealthy, this was most marked by the separation of servants from family and the demarcation of servants by class. Whereas before, servants and masters would sleep together and servants were very much a part of the household interaction, by the 18th century servants were consigned to their own quarters and invisibilised within the workings of the house.

For most people though the focus stayed around the nuclear family of husband wife and children, with or without servants or other family retainers. Reformation ideologies of the household in society basically map out the role of the nuclear family. Luther still accepts a place for servants but in Calvin's ideal world the household is husband wife and children, without servants, and it's Calvin's model that becomes the norm for capitalist society with the embourgoisification of the working classes, starting in the 19th century but accelerating post-WW2 with the rise of consumer capitalism

Ironically, capitalism is not one for promoting human solidarity. It's model is the marketplace and it's fantasy is that we are all equal agents in that marketplace, a fiction that serves to buttress the power relations in society. Any sort of human solidarity is anti-capitalist, anti-market. The nuclear family is about as close as capitalism can get to any sort of human soldiarity and even that remains unstable in the face of the fissiparous atomising dynamics of the marketplace. So the nuclear family, the creation of capitalism is constantly destabilised by it.

In late capitalist society, marriage remains the means of establishing the nuclear family. That's its purpose and it is accompanied by a suite of mythologies designed to make marriage desireable. Ironically these mythologies primarily target women, the ones who come out second best in the marriage/nuclear family institution. You can tune into these mythologies on TV talk shows, in the plethora of magazines marketed to women, in the diet and beauty industries, in TV soaps, in most advertising actually, in film and song. They permeate the culture. Marriage is presented as the central goal of life, almost a coming of age, and a means of fulfilment and personal maturation. Some of the material addresses men but by far it's greatest focus is women. Furthermore marriage is now a commodity that's marketed vigourously, it's a big business! And it's a business that plays on romantic fantasies, idealised desires, indeed the whole big E of experience. Marriage is spun as the key to fulfilment and personal growth and status too.

I was recently talking about this issue with a young gay guy who described himself as a "revolutionary socialist". He could not understand why I did not support the push for same sex marriage. When I said marriage was a patriarchal instution, he corrected me saying it was a capitalist institution. Of course the reality is that it's both. But then surprisingly he said that same sex marriage might actually change marriage for the better. In other words he might be a revolutionary socialist, but he's clearly bought right into the marriage mythologies. And yet there is a whole history of marriage resistance in the history of socialism, anarchism and feminism. And what would surprise many people even more is that there is an even older religious history of marraige resistance both within and without Christianity going back millennia.

But could same sex marriage perhaps improve, maybe even redeem, marriage? I don't think so. In fact I think it might open up some very conundrums. Luce Irigaray says of patriarchy that it operates under the law of the Same. What she means is that under patriarchy there is only one effective gender, men. There are also wombmen who are not quite men and, because the womb is a potent life generator, the object of desire/envy, need to be controlled and fenced in and guarded. The discourses that govern these wombs, that define the heteronormative model that is patriarchy, are determined by men. Discursively the wombmen, the women are men. Women have yet to speak, have yet to make that discursive space from which a real conversation can unfold. There is as yet no heterosexuality, only heteronormativity. At the same time homosexuality is repressed because it makes visible this law of the Same and, whatever else, Patriarchy must cover up it's indebtedness to this law.

Capitalism has incorporated, built upon patriarchy. It strikes me that, like Patriarchy, capitalism recognises only one gender, the consumer. The consumer is discursively mostly framed as male - they must have agency, income to spend and so forth. The ideal consumer is single and a free agent, unencumbered by wombs and children. But failing that there is also the nuclear family. Despite its instablity, the nuclear family is important as a site of consumption and as a site for inculcating consumerist norms in the children. Under Patriarchy, gender roles were and still are quite rigorously enforced not least to mask the law of the Same. I'm not certain if that's so for capitalism. I think that's why women and LGBTQ people have made such rapid advances in recent years. From a systemic perspective, they are all consumers, or potential consumers. Capitalism is totalising - everyone must be incorporated into its dynamic. Thus both women and LGBTQ people must be integrated into the system.

And so I think same sex marriage is something that fits that dynamic. It's integrating - queer folk are offered the opportunity of establishing nuclear family households of their own. But it's also exclusive - not all the types of same sex relationships fit the marriage model. But homogeneity is also a hallmark of capitalism, that way desires can be determined and exploited. So from a capitalist perspective it doesn't matter if marriage doesn't suit the variety of same sex relationships there are out there. It's of no consequence because we will all live under the tyranny of marriage. And homosexuality will be heteronormatised.

And ironically, capitalism might even manage to fulfill that old patriarchal dream of eliding completely the maternal body by means of same sex marriage. On the weekend, the Age ran this story of two gay men in Victoria and their quest for parenthood. I'll preface my comnts by saying that I make no comment on their relationship or their parenting abliities and certainly nt on their love for their children. But what grabbed my attention in the story was the process by whch these children came to be. They "outlaid $40,000 to collect eggs from one woman and rent a womb from another to gestate their babies in a Mumbai fertility clinic" This account rang all sort of alarm bells for me, alarm bells of race, gender and colonialism. But further I was struck by how they seemd to have almost successfully elided, deleted the maternal body from the process. Not one but two women were involved, the one to provide the eggs and the other to provide the womb. By using two women in this way they have effectively made sure that neither woman can make any sort of claim to the children. The maternal lineage is confused and hence erased. The children here are clearly the property of the father alone

And so marriage is no solution, no answer to our quest for relationship recognition (and I certainly support the need for relationship recognition). As an institution it's flawed and will work to heteronormatise and privilege certain types of same sex relationships - those that are most marriage like. It will also cut us off from the various alternatives from the past that I would argue better serve our recognition needs and are actually much better models for our relationships than marriage, such as the sworn friendship models and spiritual brothers/sisters. And I also like the civil union, civil partnership models as well but not in isolation. Adopting same sex marriage, however, would close off any possibilities for developing such alternatives

I don't labour under the illusion that we can get rid of marriage but what I would like to see is the tyranny of marriage overthrown and marriage re-embedded in a broadwork network of relationships such that it becomes one among many and maybe not all that important in the scheme of things. And one thing is for sure providing a plenitude of relationship models would benefit both straight and queer.

One possible future for marriage could be one in which it is re-oriented towards childrearing. In other words two or more people take on a commitment to parenting. I don't restrict parenting to two because one of the basic facts of same sex parenting is that there is always a third, the provider of egg, womb, sperm. With the focus on the children I could see how the perspective could shift from children as property to children in relationship with parents. Indeed I could almost imagine the end of divorce (unless initiated by the children themselves to divorce from their parents) because it's no longer the relationship between the parents that counts but instead the commitment to and relationship with the children that counts.

But above all I want to see the celebration and acknowledging of friendship, passionate friendships, romantic friendships, sworn friendships, a matrix of loving friendships put front and centre in our society so as to open up richer affectional possibilities for all, straight and queer and to bring to an end once and for all the dead end tyranny of marriage.

I plan to follow up this post with some reflections on the implications of this position for religion, primarily Christianity which has as its endtime utopian vision a world without marriage. But for now I would strongly urge people to resist the call to go chasing after that "marriage hearse".

Biblical Studies Carnival for August over at Jim West's Blog

Jim West is hosting this month's Biblical Studies Carnival. It's number 44 and he's calling it the Funhouse edition. He starts off saying

Go ahead, glower at me all you like, I’m still calling this the ‘Funhouse Edition’. Funhouses are filled with distorting mirrors and freakish, bizarre and scary sights as well as funny stuff. If you find your benighted self included in this particular freak show, don’t be mad- it’s ok to be a freak. Just remember, I love all, most, some, a few, one or two of you!

Too, it’s good to have fun- even at our own expense sometimes.

And even I get a mention, which is great to see. But it appears Jim doesn't like my decor. He complains of "the ghastly and eye stabbing pink festooning his (my) page" But then Jim's heavily into Calvin and terms himself a Zwinglian. I don't think between those two they allowed much room for pink in their lives. We Catholics on the hand... Jim had better stay away from the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Wellington. Although most of the photos don't do justice to how rosy pink it really is inside. Even the Anglican's St Paul's Cathedral just a couple of doors down the road, are very taken with pink, inside tempered with pastel greens and purples and blues while the whole building exterior is in a delightful salmon pink. But once again the photos don't do justice to how brightly those pinks stand out.

I guess Jim's really lucky I couldn't do a blend of pink and purple on this page :)