George Fox

For man and woman were helpsmeet in the image of God … in the dominion before they fell; but after the Fall … the man was to rule over his wife; but in the restoration by Christ, into the image of God … in that they are helpsmeet, man and woman, as they were in before the Fall. You could read this as a statement for Equality of men and women, but it is not: as “helpsmeet”, men and women have different and complementary roles. Fox was a man of his time. Yet this is revolutionary: we are restored by Christ into the image of God. The Church of England required belief in Original Sin, saying that man is inclined to evil, and the infection of nature remains even in those regenerated by faith in Christ. The Westminster confession said that man could be sanctified, yet remain in part corrupt.

But we, Quakers, are restored to our glory, in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful, beautiful. I don’t think that is unBiblical, particularly, though probably some Evangelicals would, and I am not Marcus J Borg to bandy proof-texts with them. Fox knew and used the Bible as he preached.

I wondered, what are we to make of the Letter to the Governor of Barbadoes, which was in our book of discipline in the 19th century and is still regarded in Evangelical Quaker circles. Much of it is a statement of belief about God, Jesus and scripture. As a liberal-liberal 21st century Quaker, I can say simply, he was a man of his time, and when he calls the Bible the Word of God, whose writers spoke as moved by the Holy Spirit, he spoke the ideas of his time. In following him, I am not to accept his 17th century ideas as a whole, but his way of being with them. So he writes that masters should “pray with and for, teach, instruct and admonish” their slaves about Christian truth: not release them, but treat them as human beings, fellow-servants of Christ. That might mitigate the masters’ bestial treatment.

I love this quote too, the way the words build and dance round the idea, the strength of it.

I must read the Journal again. I want to know this man. And now, an Iris Murdoch quote:

I live in long times, not in sudden present moments. I’ve got to go back to where I am… You don’t understand people like me, like us, the other ones. You’re like a bird that flies in the air, a fish that swims in the sea. You move, you look about you, you want things. There are others who live on Earth and move just a little and don’t look-

Monet, en bateau

The root of Catholic transphobia

We should listen to each other, not talk at or past each other, says Leticia, so reasonably. Every Catholic is to respect the dignity of every person. She seems so nice that it is hard at first to put my finger on her transphobia.

Leticia has had a hard time. Brought up Southern Baptist, she was sexually abused aged 5, and carried guilt for that for many years. She started having sex aged 14, and now calls her promiscuous self a “hoe”. Christians were keen to be “clear” about particular sins, and that made her hate herself more.

Then she found God’s Love, and wants to communicate it. That is the Gospel. People do not need to be told particular actions are Sin, they know already, and have a conviction they are not good enough. Loved, they may begin to heal of their sin: the first message is Love. She cites Vatican II in support of this idea.

So, she says that she is happy to “respect” Caitlyn Jenner. She would use Caitlyn’s real name, and the correct pronouns. How loving and generous of her! She has been reading St Augustine, and with him believes that all human beings search for happiness. She assumed, wrongly, that I had not read him. “I should find happiness only in Thee!” cried Augustine in his Confessions, one of the quotes I remember.

One ghastly man, Edward, does not understand what she says. She struggles with her own sins, with the help of Jesus and her priest, too much to condemn another. He says he must “stand for what God has ordained” by referring to trans women with male pronouns. He compares us to SS officers, which makes a change from paedophiles. He then complains of her using the word “fuck”, which in context was beautifully vulnerable of her.

Unfortunately, Leticia is unable to love us, because she is unable to see us or hear us. “Dialogue requires listening”, she says correctly, she wants people to hear each other. I am happy to hear her talking of herself, and when she calls her former sleeping around sinful I can value that. I see no value in what she has to say about trans folk: though some of her best friends are LGBT, she still imagines that blocks our way to God.

She has the experience of having desired something, a promiscuous lifestyle, which now she finds unfulfilling. Chastity with her husband as commanded by the church fulfils her. She imagines that other things her church vilifies, such as transition, are similarly unfulfilling eventually: we think we want them but we must be mistaken, just because she was.

This is the root of her transphobia. She believes in “Objective truth”. I believe there is one truth, too, but it is so complex it can only be known in the mind of God. We see through a glass darkly: we can only know a small part of the truth.

She believes her church knows the truth, and unfortunately that includes evil rubbish the fuckwit Maledict wrote about being gay and about transsexuality. It is hard to bring her to know the truth, because she imagines she knows it already. Human beings do not just seek happiness. We heal. Just as my body heals without my conscious will, so does my psyche. My healing journey has taken me towards self-actualisation through the long process of transition. Thanks be to God.

Murillo, two women at a window

What would you lose?

Not even a baker, just someone ranting on about how bakers who refuse cakes to gay couples are persecuted. So I asked her, what would you lose if you baked the cake? And she answered,

my fellowship with God.

She would be separated from Him and grieve the Holy Spirit. She would be demoralised. She would have sold out. In marrying, the gay couple are flaunting their sin and she must not approve or participate.

Wow. It is a poor thing to gain the World and lose my soul- no sanction or promise will beat that. She is like the brothers in 4 Maccabees. But gay couples are infinitely dangerous to her, carrying the risk of separation from God, because they flaunt their sin in other ways than by marrying- by handholding, or a peck on the cheek, perhaps. Imagine if she thought, well, that’s not so bad, really. Even such a thought might grieve the Holy Spirit.

And yet adulterous couples, marrying for a second time where the first spouse is still alive, do not bother her at all. She simply imagines that there is an excuse for such a marriage.

The thing about Eliazar and the seven brothers, though, is that they were subject to law. In Jesus, God is revealed as Love. However, she has an answer for this: love for the gay couple means proclaiming their sin, and shunning them as long as they persist with it. She “Loves” them by doing what anyone else would call hate.

She has an answer for everything. She is hermetically sealed from the Gospel. Her God is the God of Hell, delighting in torturing creation and calling it Love- made in her image, in fact.

I worried that she would be constantly needing to proclaim the sins of the people she meets, to avoid condoning that sin and betraying God; but only the gay couple, and only their sinful union, merit such condemnation. Everything else might have a perfectly innocent explanation.

This Slate article has a measured response to the ridiculous pizza restaurant which would not hold a gay wedding reception. And Gronda the Republican reassures me that not all US Christians are like that: I am just tired of these far right Christians giving other Christians like myself a bad name. I can’t help but believe that the my God That I know wants to welcome everyone into his arms including the poor, the sick, the sinner, the downtrodden, etc. no matter whether they are gay, from another religious background, the immigrant population, white or people of color or whatever. These far right peoples who call themselves Christians and spout their hate and bigotry are blocking this path and are doing real harm.HarpieI lock my bike to the bike-stands in the town centre, and affecting insouciance, take my wig from my saddle-bags, take off my helmet, mop my sweaty brow, and put my wig on.

Jayne thinks I should go into the toilets thirty yards away to do this. Someone might see me wigless and abuse me.

I have met a few arseholes who would abuse a complete stranger merely because I am trans. I will not fearfully constrain my life like this in case one is walking past Bright House and happens to notice me.

I met a man who had been walking through the station when someone psychotic leapt on his back and drew a razor blade across his forehead. He could have been blinded. Thereafter he was terrified to leave his house.

Original sin II

Mars sword, Mercury sandalsAs in Adam all die-

Because of Adam’s first sin, all human beings inherit that sin, and so are damned unless we turn to Christ. God cannot look upon sin.

I phrased it as bleakly and repulsively as possible, because that is the understanding many people have of original sin. Biting the apple has great importance, so a young Earth creationist suggested that if we did not all descend from Adam and Eve, Christ died in vain. A more nuanced view is possible. If you grow up with people who are angry, violent and chaotic, you will become so. The sins of the fathers are visited on the children, even to the tenth generation. My story of my mother’s mother’s father shows how controlling he was. St Augustine, not aware of a distinction between nature and nurture, observed this.

Some say that Augustine invented the doctrine, based on a Latin mistranslation of Romans 5:12. Or, the ideas were around from the Bible, and Augustine systematised them. Here is that verse in the NRSV:
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—

And here in the NIV:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned –

I am not going to burrow into the Greek, I am not that keen, but once it has been thought- we inherit sin, when our soul joins our foetus- it could be read that way. I read it that my sin is my own, and my responsibility, which is a little harsh when I did grow up in that fearful, controlling environment. If we inherit sin, it is not through some mystical curse on the new soul but through environment or part of human nature. Pelagius came up with the idea of Limbo, where an unbaptized baby would go: not blessed, but not in eternal torment either.

Which is harder to bear, that we sin from our first thought, or Original Blessing? That says I am created Good- your works are wonderful, and I know it well- but yet still fail, doing what I do not want to do.

I move on. From Original Sin v Original Blessing, a vile way of seeing humanity against a good way, I move to Original Sin and Original Blessing, layers of metaphor which fit part of my experience and help me understand it; rather than rejecting a doctrine and rejecting its believers, I can see more clearly that part of God they have.

The sins of the church

In 2000, Pope John Paul II confessed the sins of File:John Paul II Medal of Freedom 2004.jpgCatholics in the second millennium. What confessions did he make, and what did people say about them?

His was a confession to God, requesting God’s mercy. Here is the text of his homily and prayer. It was based on this document, a theological study of the Church and the faults of the past.

Because of the bond which unites us to one another in the Mystical Body, all of us, though not personally responsible and without encroaching on the judgement of God who alone knows every heart, bear the burden of the errors and faults of those who have gone before us.

Here is a paradox: we are not responsible for the sins of our predecessors, but insofar as we are identified with the institution with which they are identified, by themselves and others, we bear the burden of their faults. It is for God to judge, and not us.

Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Inquisition, tiptoed round the violence of his predecessors, saying only that they had sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel in the solemn duty of defending the truth. Their aims were right, he says, and will not say which means were objectionable.

The Pope then said, truth can prevail only in virtue of truth itself.  The violence we use to enforce our beliefs cannot prevail to the extent that our beliefs are false: it only creates equal resistance.

The last part of this litany, on current sin, repels me. Let us pray for those who are most defenceless, the unborn killed File:John Paul II Brazil 1997 3.jpgin their mother’s womb or even exploited for experimental purposes by those who abuse the promise of biotechnology and distort the aims of science. Here they are condemning the “sins” of others, ignoring the helplessness of women who need abortions, and seeking to prevent cures for disease.

The Guardian called it an “apology”, which misses the point: it is a confession to God, not an apology to victims or to their successors. Biblelight said the Pope was the Antichrist because he wore purple.

America magazine asked whether the church itself can be held responsible for the sins of its members, and how the evident presence of sin in its history is compatible with the church’s holiness. For Francis Sullivan, outsiders find it difficult to distinguish the mystical, sinless Mother Church from the earthly Church whose official policy, set by its leadership, was to torture alleged heretics. His answer comes from Vatican II: the church is “the pilgrim people of God”, a human institution, always in need of reform, always in need of purification. For Tradition in Action, the possible implication from the Pope’s confession was that the Church could sin, a liberal plot to affirm a new conception of the Church, and also the Faith, one constantly reforming, changing, and evolving. See also Religious Tolerance.

The sins of violence are likely to continue, given the Pope’s statement of “the evils of today“: We must ask ourselves what our responsibilities are regarding atheism, religious indifference, secularism, ethical relativism, the violations of the right to life, disregard for the poor in many countries.

Gluttony and the Bible

Opitz, the GluttonIs Gluttony a sin? As with so many things, the Bible is contradictory. Paul is clear, making it as evil as (shock, horror) homosexuality: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. While “homosexuality” is a mistranslation, the Greek meaning the abusers of enslaved rent-boys, the words “greedy nor drunkards” mean exactly that.

Proverbs gives a reason: Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags. Here, the problem is laziness rather than gluttony per se (Since when did “persay” become a word? O Tempora! O Mores!)

Jesus did not say it was not a sin, so much as condemn those who condemned it: The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ The “people of this generation”, as overwhelmingly negative as the people of this generation, condemned John for fasting and Jesus for feasting. Ye cannae win with them.

Opitz- Der VöllerIn 1 Cor 8, Paul says what and where we eat is a matter of conscience, which cuts both ways: you know that offering food to false gods is meaningless, so you may eat it. But your fellow-Christian believes the idolatrous ceremony has meaning, and so if he eats that meat he sins. If you by example lead him into what is a sin for him, you sin yourself. Don’t do anything with the tincture of sin to it.

Much condemnation is of the rich, rather than of overeating. Jesus says “Beware of the scribes, who… love… the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” He echoes Amos condemning rulers, who,  caring neither for the poor nor the defence of the realm, will soon be swept away by the Assyrians.

Here is Deuteronomy, being as alien and ridiculous as the Torah can be: parents take their son to the elders and complain “This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” So the son is stoned to death. Calvinists legislating the Bible in Scotland made “Cursing of Parents” a capital offence, but there is no record of anyone being executed for it. 

Gluttony, a symbol of laziness and uselessness, and the plague of our times in the US and the UK, among children, and perhaps even a conspiracy of the rich against the poor. Why do Christians not campaign against it, as some do against homosexuality?

Bible quotes from Open Bible.

Opitz dogs

Quiet night in

File:BondageAngelLarge.JPGWe had a quiet hogmanay. Heather and I watched TV, stroked cats, fiddled with netbook and iPad, and after the bongs wished each other happy new year and went to bed.

You know you are a Candy Crush saga addict when you look at bathroom tiles and think “move that there for three across”. Or this shower curtain; or biscuits for cheese with holes in a square pattern. I have not paid a dollar for extra lives but I have clock-watched anxiously when my Quest is about to start. Some people have finished the 400-odd levels, which means there must be skill to it, somewhere, or they have spent their entire commute for six months on it. H mocks me for playing it compulsively and eggs me on. I think of two incapacity benefit appellants. One spent his time playing video games, to the disgust and open derision of the tribunal. The other lived with his father, and collected his methadone every morning at the chemist’s. His life was grey, and he had no wish to do anything else.

With Thank you for the Music on the telly, I had a maudlin moment looking at H thinking of all her intellect, energy and Love with precious little use for it: her only social life is her daughter’s family, she spends her day stroking her cats. Despite winning the appeal she is still excluded from her Quaker meeting. She says when that ceases she will go once, but only again if she is welcomed- and her guarded way of being with others means that the standard to make her feel welcomed will be impossibly high. course I am projecting. It would behove me to find better use for my own intellect, energy and love. The Times had an article about what Daniel Kahneman calls “slow thinking” and “fast thinking”, and others call planning and impulse. Choosing items to use immediately, we pick favourites. Choosing items to be used over a longer period, we pick high-brow novels and nourishing foods: so I have my Cambridge companion to Proust with me but read Matter by Iain M Banks.

The Times quotes Nietzsche as calling a human being a “dark veiled thing”. I thought of myself as evolved to fit my world, but possibly the impulsive behaviour is out of balance: our impulsiveness fits a human society of hunter-gatherers in a more benign environment. As soon as we have just enough will-power to be able to plan, we move where planning is required, and Devil take the hindmost. So “Sin” is a worthwhile concept.

Ach. My increasing Dissatisfaction may overcome my Despair, and prod me forward, if I can resist Candy Crush and Castle on the telly.

Living together

File:Benedito Calixto - Visitação de Nossa Senhora à Santa Isabel.jpgA homophobic woman says something sensible.

Homophobia first. Homosexuality, she says, “is incredibly glorified in our culture”, “pushed as the norm everywhere we look”. Later, in a comment, ” if you look at the representation of gay and lesbian characters in movies and on television, it certainly seems like more than 3-5% of the character population is gay”.

My friend is arachnophobic. If she sees a spider, it has all of her attention. I see a spider scuttling across the floor or building a web, even in my bathroom, and wish it well, but my friend can think of nothing else. GLAAD say that the percentage of gay characters on TV was 3.3% this year, down from 4.4% last year, but Melissa thinks it more because she is shocked when she sees them.

Yet what she says in her post is that straight Evangelical Christians should be paying gay people far less attention. I agree, generally. She is spot on. People whine about the dangers of mobile phone radiation, and text while driving. People whine about gay people, but stick with their own sins, and teach their children those sins. Even if you think the concept of “sin” negative and unhelpful, the observation is worthwhile: people whinge about things they cannot change, and carry on with the things that they perhaps could. File:Champaigne visitation.jpgI disagree with Melissa about television, which she finds “foul, sex-filled, f-word laced God-dishonoring” and I object to the violence she does not specifically name.

I disagree with her about the Bible, which she believes “every word of it to be God’s word”, and that it says “homosexuality is sin” rather than specific acts which we would think wrong. I even disagree when she says “Let’s start living our lives in a God-honoring way”. Here I pick up on “Let’s start”. The people she addresses- gossiping, hypocritical Christians obsessed with gays- have started already, though we all have a long way to go.

WhatFile:Rubens, La Visitation.jpg matters is where we agree. As Mrs Thatcher said of Mr Gorbachev, we can do business together. Melissa is concerned with living better, herself, and so am I.


Here’s another guy. You’ll just love his argument that Jesus said we should judge each other. Miley Cyrus prances around in skin-tight, skin-coloured crop top and shorts in an effort to retain those fans who five years ago watched Hannah Montana, singing “Only God can judge you”. Nick Bratcher answers,

Let’s see verse 5 again:

5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The whole point of self-examination and working on your own faults is so that…

Wait for it….

YOU CAN JUDGE YOUR BROTHER!!!…we can help our brothers see their faults and shortcomings with great patience, humility and love.

Well. I don’t think that goes well with the Evangelical assertion that “we are all sinners”, that no-one ever ends the necessary self-examination; but the result is that he thinks himself free to inspect the hearts of fellow Christians.

Nick Bratcher’s coming!



File:Environs de Louveciennes, 1876 - IMG 3565x.JPGI know that it is better for me to get up around 7.30, keep a routine of counting breaths, and shower before breakfast, and in the evening to count breaths before ten, then go to bed. In the moment, at eleven, I choose to watch more TV rather than to count breaths. I know that checking the dashboard on my blog is pointless, and I still do it. The choice I make in the moment is different from the clearly obvious choice in quiet contemplation at another time.

Mmm. “Counting breaths”. “Meditating” has so many connotations, not all of which I think I deserve. “Counting breaths” is more neutrally descriptive. I must not claim more than I do.

Those “bad” choices in the moment numb my feelings. Meditating makes me face myself, which I find difficult and unpleasant. “The one person whom I cannot avoid”-

OF COURSE I CAN AVOID HER! I can avoid her for years at a time! I can deny and suppress her, stick my fingers in my ears and chant loudly, turn away. After I glimpse her, I can keep doing that, and though I know at some level when starting that next programme that counting breaths, being with her, is better for me I often choose not to.

There is no health in us– Oh, there is health, so many times I make the right choice.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Well, I do understand it: fleeing myself makes a great deal of sense, and when I decide to face myself I must realise how difficult this is, and not try to do it all the time. Don’t run before I can walk.

Of sin II

Sin is transgression, wilful crossing of a boundary, and trespass, negligent, reckless or unknowing crossing of a boundary. It is failure to be the best possible human, the human in God’s eye, and iniquity, a perversion of what is right. It is rebellion against God, and the state of wickedness of the habitual sinner. It is rejecting God’s law for lawlessness, seeking to rule in Hell not serve in Heaven. It is irreverence for God and Godly things, refusal to meet the common standard demanded of God’s people, the disobedience of one who pretends not to hear an instruction, a defeat of ones better self by the worse self, and a Debt. All these are separate words in the Bible for sin (again, I am relying heavily on Bill Barclay).

Side note- that was the difference between the Presby Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts”, which I knew from school, and the Pisky, “Forgive us our Trespasses” which I prayed in church: The Presbies use Matthew, the Piskies use Luke. I had not known.

Yes, Violet, I get it. Imagining me, and every other single human being, a sinner, entrapped in this Satanic miasma, and weekly intoning There is no health in us is a dark view of humanity, and imagining everyone else to be unregenerate Sinners outside my own little Evangelical church is worse. But there are mitigating factors, which make this Christian world-view healing.

First, there is Jesus’ command judge not that ye be not judged, Matthew 7:1, echoed by Paul in Romans 14:4- Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Then there is the free forgiveness of the loving Father, in the parable of the prodigal son. God treats us with complete Love, as if all that rebellion and stupidity and destruction and waste had never happened. There are as wide a range of words for forgiveness, as for sin. Forgiveness is being set free from our debt to God, a gift complete, freely given in the grace of God. It is blotting out our wrongdoing, so there is no record of wrongs. It is the annulment of the power of wrongdoing. It is deliverance from danger and healing from disease, as Jesus healed the sick. It is liberation from bonds, and from slavery. It is cleansing and purification. Jesus simply takes away the sins of the world, and covers them, for love covers a multitude of sins. We are justified, treated as if we were really good, and reconciled to God.

Of course we get our Christianity wrong, repeatedly- and it can be so beautiful.