Displeasing God

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a3/Eustache_Le_Sueur_-_The_Preaching_of_St_Paul_at_Ephesus_-_WGA12613.jpg/405px-Eustache_Le_Sueur_-_The_Preaching_of_St_Paul_at_Ephesus_-_WGA12613.jpgThose who believe the Bible is divinely inspired must wrestle with the story of Jephthah, who sacrificed his unnamed daughter to God. Jephthah’s story, with some indication of God’s continuing favour, continues in Judges 12. I say this is an old tradition where Hebrews believed God demanded human sacrifice- a superseded view of God- but there is no indication of that in the text itself.

God seems more keen to punish those who did not kill: Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today (I Samuel 28:18). The story is in 1 Samuel 15. God tells Saul to “totally destroy” (the Hebrew term meant “give them to God”, often by destruction) the Amalekites. But Saul spared the Amalekite king Agag, and the best of the livestock. Saul asks forgiveness, but the prophet says, “The Lord has rejected you”.

Possibly, killing the whole tribe was the only possible thing to do. The Amalekites were enemies who would never be allies. They claimed the same land as the Israelites. Therefore, they had to be killed. Possibly also, this is not a historical tale: there is little archaeological evidence for Saul, David or Solomon. From the New Jerome commentary, the book may have been assembled after the exile, and possibly its original sources date back to Jehu and Elisha in the late 9th century: on that reading, Jehu File:Jean Colombe - Tod.jpegexpunged the worship of Baal, and the fiction of David and his successors retrospectively justified that.

In Judges 1, the Israelites could not drive out the Canaanites and Amorites. From Joshua 24, it appears that the Lord gave all the peoples of the land into the hands of the Israelites, who totally destroyed them. From the archaeological record, Jericho (whose walls came tumbling down) was unoccupied at the putative conquest by Joshua. Israel, as the children of Israel the man enslaved in Egypt, taking forty years of wandering to travel the few miles to Canaan and then conquering and existing as one people until the Assyrian conquest, never existed. Instead, there are stories which justify the worship of one God. Even the names of the tribes are different: in Genesis 29-30, Levi is a tribe, and Joseph is one tribe. In Numbers 26, Levi is not named as a tribe, and Joseph is divided into Ephraim and Manasseh.

So rather than God seeking to kill men women and children and their livestock, there is the record of Jehu and Elisha, seeking to unite the peoples in the worship of one God with new stories of events from up to a thousand years before. These stories are augmented and edited after the exile in Babylon, again to unite the people.

A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. The Israelites throughout their history needed this focus of unity.

Divine inspiration cannot mean that God had people write down stories of what had happened three hundred or a thousand years before.

Gay blessings in church

File:Moretto da Brescia - An Adoring Angel (1) - Google Art Project.jpgThe Church of England has just published the Pilling Report, the report of the working group on human sexuality. Their press release says that its purpose is to be the basis of discussion over the next two years, and not to be a new policy statement.

The recommendations do not propose any change in the church’s teaching on sexual conduct. They do propose that clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship. The group does not propose an authorised liturgy for this purpose but understands the proposed provision to be a pastoral accommodation which does not entail any change to what the church teaches. No member of the clergy, or parish, would be required to offer such services and it could not extend to solemnising same sex marriages without major changes to the law.

The document calls on the church to repent of its homophobia, defined as hostility to gay people, but claims that No one should be accused of homophobia solely for articulating traditional Christian teaching on same sex relationships.

File:Moretto da Brescia - An Adoring Angel (2) - Google Art Project.jpgThe church should pay close attention to the continuing, and as yet inconclusive, scientific work on same sex attraction. The evidence is reviewed at pp60-66. Most people are either male or female, some are intersex, some are transsexual. Most only feel heterosexual attraction, some only feel homosexual attraction, some move between the two (and may or may not self-identify as bi). Orientation has a combination of biological, social and psychological factors. Biology is not destiny, but some have a greater propensity to same sex attraction. Are our observed greater problems with mental health, and greater instability in our relationships, due to prejudice and the lack of societal support? Possibly, but not certainly, they say, disagreeing with the submission from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. They even suggest that “sexual orientation change efforts” may be effective.

At p97, they assess the implications of this for the church. Belief is not incompatible with science, they say, but while science proceeds by inductive reasoning, theology proceeds by deduction from scripture and tradition. Today’s Christians can change doctrine where it contradicts our experience of the world and of God (para 334) but doctrine stands until there is sufficient evidence to change it.

As the report appears to show the position of the church is worth discussing, and as the position of the church is wrong now, there is some faint hope of improvement. They do say that discussions should take note of the position of the wider Anglican Communion, and as some Anglican churches want to split away because of the CofE’s current position, which they find insufficiently homophobic, we can’t expect rapid movement.

What does the report say about the Bible (pp67ff)? Just that it is complex and disputed, with translation problems and differences of culture, too complex for even a Bishops’ report to summarise usefully. At p176 there is a useful essay by David Runcorn on the Evangelical perspective, accepting same sex relationships “on the basis of, not in spite of, scripture”.

Raw material

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fc/0_La_Paix_embrassant_l%27Abondance_-_P.P_Rubens_-_Yale_center_for_British_Art.JPG/357px-0_La_Paix_embrassant_l%27Abondance_-_P.P_Rubens_-_Yale_center_for_British_Art.JPGI saw the couple walking ahead of me in the park, then I saw them stopped at a fork in the path. He was standing on the main pathway, she on the causeway between two lakes. I overheard-

-You can go the way we always go if you like, I
(I can’t remember what she said precisely, will/ want to/ would like to are very different in expression)
“go this way”.

I may dislike being merely polite, but they were having a stand-off. It would have been avoidable by her saying, just before she turned, “I quite fancy going this way for a change, do you mind?”

This is a scrap of dialogue, how people actually speak, and a moment which by the rule of Show don’t Tell I would expand, as I could not say straight out that this is a trivial thing to row about.

-He opens his mouth to speak, then his shoulders slump.
-Have it your own way- there follows an Unselfishness competition, encouraged by Screwtape (ch 26).
-Without a word, he goes off by the usual way.
-Sulks or flare-ups may continue to the evening.

I thought, setting out, that there was no point looking for blackberries, but thinking about that couple I found my attention grabbed by one ripe one, among all the shrivelled husks. Unconsciously, I had been looking out for it, and when it appeared my conscious attention zeroed in on it. It had a sweet, delicate flavour. Later, I saw a mauve flower (“wild flower”, “bird”, “tree” is usually specific enough for me) and spent time with its shocking oddity among the November greens and browns.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/71/0_L%27Angleterre_et_l%27%C3%89cosse_avec_Minerve_et_l%27Amour_-_P.P._Rubens_%281%29.JPG/357px-0_L%27Angleterre_et_l%27%C3%89cosse_avec_Minerve_et_l%27Amour_-_P.P._Rubens_%281%29.JPGAs I turned the corner a man called his dog, and asked me a question.  I was more concerned about answering him- raising my voice still sounds male, to me, so- did I see the little dog do a shit? Er, no. After, I think how careful of him. He wants to clean up after his dog, and if it runs off he wants to be sure it has not messed somewhere. At the time I was concerned with other things. I saw him more clearly after. Or imposed different concerns and stereotypes of mine on him.


Should Scotland be independent? No. Given that we cannot tow ourselves out into the Atlantic, our trading circumstances remain the same. Now, we benefit from the Barnett Formula, and oil revenues are decreasing.

We will still have to negotiate with the English. But, now, some of the civil servants negotiating for Westminster are Scots, and others have affection for Scotland as part of our one country. Then, they won’t. We will still have to negotiate internationally, but have less weight.

Devolved, Scotland can have more Socialist policies, such as free residential care for the elderly, and no fees for university students to pay. Independent, Scotland might be unable to afford them.

This was going to be a full post, but I feel no need to say more.


File:Lucas Cranach Tempelaustreibung.jpgLeviticus is used as a moral argument against homosexuality. Specifically, it calls for men who lie with a man as with a woman to be stoned to death. Has this book any moral value at all?

It starts with commands to make particular sacrifices at particular times. The NRSV Access bible says its traditions were probably gathered in its current form after the exile in Babylon, and the New Jerome Biblical Commentary agrees that the first seven chapters present the sacrificial legislation of the Second Temple, built around 516BCE. With the end of the Monarchy, there was a need for a focus of unity and the identity of the nation. Sacrifice also atoned for sin: in one, on the Day of Atonement, the sins of the whole nation of the past year were taken away by the Scapegoat. It is reassuring that humans could have a way of becoming right with God; but all Christians would agree that these rules for killing and burning animals are no longer necessary. Christ’s sacrifice supersedes them.

Chapters 10-15 distinguish ceremonially clean from unclean things. Some of these are sensible: pork must be well cooked, or can give food poisoning, so in a peasant economy it might be better not to eat it at all. These rules also distinguish the Jews from the peoples around them. Therefore, the book gives them a sense of solidarity, and identity with a particular culture. But again, now God has called all these things clean and commanded Christians not to call them unclean.

File:Hl-Valentin-mit-Stifter-150.jpgThere are two narrative passages. In Leviticus 10, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu perform a sacrifice which God has not commanded. Fire issues out of the “presence of the Lord” and they die. Aaron is ordered not to mourn them. This illustrates an aspect of God. God is “abba“, Daddy, but also the Holy God, to be treated with respect. However as we are commanded to pray Our Father, and a father will not give his son a stone when he asks for bread, it is unlikely God kills those who worship incorrectly by blasting them with fire. This too is at least qualified, if not superseded. At 24: 10-16, the child of an Egyptian by an Israelite woman gets in a fight with an Israelite, and blasphemes God’s name with a curse. The whole community stones him to death. No Christian now argues we should stone people to death, though soi-disant Christians in Uganda, egged on by American extremists, seek the death penalty for homosexuality.

All of Leviticus is superseded, then, apart from that bit about men lying with men. The bit in the same chapter condemning sex during menstruation is never enforced.

There is one good bit. 19:18, “Love your neighbour as yourself”, which Jesus quoted. The book has historical value, and it had value for the community which obeyed it, 2500 years ago. It is no basis for any moral law, now.

I have extensively rewritten my page Gay Christians, added some lovely pictures, and reordered it so that the meanings of the passages are explained briefly, then links are provided to more detailed discussion. The new form should make it easier to add new links: if you would like to recommend any, please let me know.

Equal Marriage in Scotland

civil partnership Scotland 3civil partnership Scotland 1The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill has been introduced before the Scottish Parliament.

In Scotland as in England, there will be two separate institutions, gay marriage and straight marriage, both called “marriage”, but with particular differences. “Adultery has the same meaning for [both]”, which words, paradoxically, differentiate them: sexual betrayal is only adultery if it is opposite-sex. There is voidability of a marriage as in England: in England, the ground is called “non-consummation”, in Scotland, “impotence”, but it comes to the same thing, the failure to consummate. This only applies to opposite-sex civil partnership Scotland 2marriage.

It is a Civil Partnership bill: I rather hoped it would create opposite-sex civil partnerships, just to see what people wanted. The union of two people, indefinitely, is the meaning of the procedure. Allowing opposite sex civil partnerships would show whether people believed that “marriage” has a religious or just a civil meaning, and whether they wanted to distance themselves from it.

Aberdeen civil partnershipReligious bodies may request to be registered to perform same sex marriages. There is no particular provision for the Church of Scotland. My old lot, the Scottish Episcopal Church, say that The Church’s current position is that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and this clarity allows us the space to listen to the many differing views held by the members of our Church. I hope that means change is possible. I fear it means that resistors have the upper hand. But even the Church of Scotland offers hope: while it “opposes” same sex marriage, it is “acutely aware that opinions differ among our own members and that many people are anxious and hurt in the current situation. We re-iterate that we believe homophobia to be sinful.”

Civil partners may marry each other, and the marriage is backdated to the date of the civil partnership ceremony.

Civil partnership DumfriesI read “Protection of freedom of expression” and my hackles rise, but clause 14 adds nothing. The Bill does not affect the human rights to freedom of expression or freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Well, duh.

The bill grants jurisdiction to the sheriff court in actions for declarator of marriage. In Scotland, marriage may be by “Cohabitation with habit and repute”- where people live together, the court may declare them married without a ceremony. However, this is a dead letter: the law requires “repute”. They must pretend to be married. In the past, cohabiting couples might have pretended to be married in order to avoid scandal, but now there is no shame in cohabitation, so people do not pretend. The provision is extended to same sex couples.

A married trans person cannot get a gender recognition certificate unless his/her spouse consents, but where the spouse does, the continuity of the marriage is not affected. A trans person in a civil partnership also needs consent from his/her partner to get a GRC, and regulations may provide for the civil partnership to be converted into a marriage. This indicates that civil partnership was less than marriage, separate and therefore not equal.

Thank God for equal marriage! It is a powerful symbol of equality.

I love these photographs. They feel Scots to me, not just the kilts but the faces and the architecture. Click one to find its origin, I will take it down if the owner objects.

Memento mori

Klee death and fireMy friend’s father in law was a drunken violent man who had bullied and assaulted his wife and daughters. He felt no love for the man. When he died, it seemed to affect my friend, who still declared his hatred, and it seemed to me that even though he was not bereaved in the usual way, he had been reminded of death. The death of another made him think of his own.

Another man told me that when he turned thirty, he had a clear understanding of his own death. He was going to die.

Someone wrote (AC Grayling? I can’t find it on Google) that if there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no believers at funerals: confronted with the fact of death we are unable to believe our fairy-tales- which may be why Rodney repeated so often about Dad’s experience of eternal life, now. Jackie Martinez in pinkIf we all believed it, he would only say it once, and if he believed it he might say it less. The funeral is a reminder of our own death, and for Rodney at 87 it will not be long.

For me at 47, it may be fifty years, and, perhaps, being alive and hungry, or frightened, or powerless, is more frightening than dying. I don’t know if that is true for me, though. I don’t know what I feel about it, and I don’t know what I might feel about it. In the moment of death there is the basic-brain response to seek survival, which may overcome the rational desire for death: so the hanged man desperately scratches at his neck to loosen the rope. I have desired death as a relief from burdens (I don’t, now) but a survival instinct would take over from that part of me which planned my death.

And then there is the state of being dead, no longer feeling or acting, though perhaps still influencing. I feel some resentment, actually: how could the world get on without me? It feels unreal. I remember thinking of my university carrying on without me- I realised it does, and turned to what was next.

I will die. I don’t know if the pain of a terminal illness is increased by knowledge that it is terminal, but the inevitable fact of death would simply be closer than it is now.

I don’t know what I feel about my death, and so put words to myself, seeking some spark of recognition. Possibly because it is unlikely within the next five years, and I do not plan ahead, particularly- five years seems a long way away- it is not real enough to me for me to feel anything, even though I can state I will die as a fact.

Crying for the money

Claude Monet- Yellow Irises detail 1If a man for money criesClaude Monet- Yellow Irises detail 2
cry not when his father dies
It is proof that he would rather
have the money than his father.

This has been bothering me. Even if the original is a mockery of Lopez de Vega rather than a serious point, I have cried far more passionately over my father’s loss of money than over his death.

ÂŁ60,000, or ÂŁ10,000, as soon as the executry was complete, would give me choices which I do not now have. That my father could be conned out of ÂŁ50,000 last year was bad enough; that he could be conned out of another ÂŁ50,000 by practically the same con, after he appeared to see that he had been conned before; that after he appeared to see that the second con was a fraud, he could scrape together ÂŁ2000 to give to the same people this Summer; that his wife, and my sister who lives ten miles away could not protect him from this; that I could not, because I was so far away and because of how I was with his wife; that we and hundreds of others conned in the same way could tell the police of the particular con-men, and those con-men could continue to operate with impunity from the same addresses and telephone numbers-

makes me weep, passionately, abandonedly, repeatedly- for my failure to control my world, and my loss of the money. Whereas at his funeral my weeping was a happy grief, with delight at his beauty and vivacity-

Is this next bit brutal and dark? I don’t know.

At 88, his physical and mental powers were greatly reduced. He needed no carers, and took some part in the housework, but did not go out a lot. He had stopped going to the church, or the dancing. People visiting made his social life, and I am unclear about how much there was of that. He has ceased to be a source of worry for me. In part the worry was that he would be unhappy or weary or frightened or deluded, and I and others could not alleviate that.

In dying, he has ceased to be this vulnerable old man, and become- himself, the whole of him over his whole life. In that sense his life is Eternal, outside time. I have memories, of gifts and achievements, and his real regrets are outweighed by his consolations and mine.

The images are extracts from Yellow Irises by Claude Monet.

The Day of the Doctor

My earliest memory of television is of the Sontaran, Linx, removing his helmet. It was first broadcast when I was seven, and it feels like a child’s memory, shock burning it in. He is an ugly fellow. I found Sontarans terrifying, especially in The Sontaran Experiment, which featured a robot which captured human beings for torture, to test their resilience. When I saw the story again, this century, that robot which had so frightened me merely appeared camp.

I have been very much looking forward to The Day of The Doctor, and have watched the surrounding programmes and videos.  Below is the video of The Night of the Doctor. You need to have some knowledge of the programme to get anything out of it: you need to know that The Doctor travels through time and space in his Tardis, usually with a human companion, and when he is mortally injured he can “regenerate”, adopt a new, healthy body. This allows the actor to change and the programme to continue for fifty years.

But also, the video is set on Karn. In The Deadly Assassin, broadcast in 1976, it was established that a time lord could have only twelve regenerations, that is, thirteen incarnations. In The Brain of Morbius, broadcast the year before, it appears that there is no limit on the number of regenerations.

Some Doctor Who fans say this is a matter of Canon, the rules of the Doctor Who universe, and so cannot be altered. This is expressed vehemently. Doctor Who is a programme about an immortal who drops in to bad situations, and makes them better. That is very attractive when the world is incomprehensible and scary. I am tempted to see Doctor Who canon as a thing I can understand and control, as a sop when I can control nothing else.

And- after fifty years Doctor Who has to contradict itself. The basic premise remains the same, alien with human companions makes bad situations anywhere in time and space better, but more arcane matters can be changed if the writers wish it. The canon-fanatic does not have control, even of that. It seems to me that fans accept this. “Is it entertaining?” is more important than “does it contradict a line from thirty years ago?” We let go of our need to control. We see the positive and the good, not the thing to whinge about.

As an introduction to The Day of the Doctor, here is The Night of the Doctor, set before all the Doctor Who broadcast this century, during the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. He seeks to recruit a new companion, but she refuses because he is a Time Lord, as bad as a dalek (who are really, really bad). The Doctor, who has avoided involvement in the Time War, now in despair becomes a Warrior who will intervene in it.

The challenge for The Day of the Doctor is to produce a drama from all of this, which someone new to the programme can enjoy.

Don’t tell me the Rules is my review of The Day of the Doctor.

Wedding photography

Wedding portrait small

Here is my parents’ wedding photograph. Wedding photography has come on a great deal since 1962, it seems. After scanning it, I recalled it and thought how they might almost be holding numbers in front of themselves, it was so impersonal- looking at it again I see it is not quite that bad. I note the prayer book my mother holds.

I much prefer this informal one.

Wedding informal small

Just as in the war, he has cracked a great line, and looks as if he cannot believe his good fortune.

Being polite

RAF portrait small file

kilt portrait croppedUp to London, then up to Edinburgh, all in one week. I had no conversations on the train, at all, which disappointed me. I cut cheese for lunch on Tuesday 12th, and the man next to me gave me a wet-wipe to clean my penknife. “Be prepared is my motto”, he said. Well- I lifted the knife. He had thought of getting one, but they are £19. Several people helped me with my heavy case, going south.

I wrote that on my last leg, then a man sat opposite, and we chatted. He is a chemical engineer from Ohio. His daughter is 13, and wants to be a writer: at the moment she is devouring books, hundreds of pages a day. He adopted a child belonging to a neighbour, and the child thereby avoided a life of crime. Despite this, I found his talk boring, perhaps for lack of affect.

I had wondered why I had not been subjected to a medical for my ESA yet- but I saw the GP on Monday, and she told me that it was time to put some structure in my life. Then, perhaps my face fell, perhaps it was my bereavement, she gave me another three months. Stopping being on the sick does not put structure in my life, it makes me sign on every two weeks, and possibly get sanctioned. Possibly SEMA expect GPs to put us off the sick, rather than doing it themselves.

I got the 9.20 bus, and my sister picked me up at Waverley at 4.10. As I thought, we were polite to each other. That evening, we could have talked but I was finishing off my draft minutes for AM. Then we could have talked, but she was watching soaps. So, rather than getting drunk, and weeping together, and sharing our feelings, we were polite, and went to bed around ten.

The next night I watched her daughter, who continues her Architecture course, design a building by CAD, loving the way she manipulated it. She creates disabled access, and the principle is that the disabled person’s experience of the building should be the same as that of the able person. No going round the back for disabled access. I looked through Dad’s photographs, and my nephew looked too.

And- I just passed them to him. We did not discuss them. I did not point anything out to him. So while I resented how polite and flat of affect we were, as I predicted, here was I at least taking my part in creating that. I don’t know whether we could have expressed real feeling. It could be worse, fighting and blaming each other would be worse than mere politeness. We refer to when I will next be in Edinburgh, but I do not know if I will ever see them again.

The funeral was beautiful. We started in St Vincent’s church, where Dad worshipped for years, and where the presbyter Rodney, 87, was his good friend. Rodney celebrated the Eucharist, and preached, then preached again at the crematorium.

It had been suggested that I not share the funeral car with Dad’s wife, but I did, and six of us drove in a silent dream up the hill through new town and old town. Beautiful city. Past the Liberton hospital, which is a happy memory for me.

The crematorium is being renovated, so we had the smaller chapel, which seats fifty: we had people standing at the back. Rodney spoke of Eternal life, the life with God, more than once saying “Which Alec is now experiencing” and I thought, I do not believe in that; but his voice is beautiful. The family wore black, which I had not thought to do, and Dad’s wife asked me to the line at the end, greeting everyone, which surprised me. Form’s sake, or sympathy, I do not know. Bomber Command Association and dancers and walkers and Piskies and friends: none I really recognised.

Next day, my sister went back to work and her daughter lay in bed as I scanned those photos. I had nothing to say to her, hardly even meaningless expressions of good will.