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The Church of England just wounded itself

You may think this is good news, but you should be deeply troubled. The Church of England has officially decided that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

The Bishop of Leicester, who leads the bishops in the House of Lords, said they would now concentrate their efforts on “improving” rather than halting an historic redefinition of marriage.

It represents a dramatic change of tack in the year since the Church insisted that gay marriage posed one of the biggest threats of disestablishment of the Church of England since the reign of Henry VIII.

“Troubled?” you ask, “This is exactly what Myers has favored for years!” But, you see, I didn’t factor in the theological implications. When the source of all objective morality (as we’ve been told God and his priesthood are, many times) undergoes a major revision, we ought to think about what it means. Let us consider the possibilities.

  1. There is a god who cares very much what you do with your genitals, and sometimes he changes his mind. You should find this terrifying. Here’s this all-powerful deity who can send you to paradise or to hell, and the rules for admission can change at any time. Your absolute objective morality is suddenly in flux! You could be cruising along, living the rules of your religion meticulously, and there could be a revision at any time — what if god, on a whim, decided that all marriage was an abomination, and you were supposed to practice free love? Are you prepared to obey?

    1. Related concern: is this retroactive? So if a pair of randy, lonely medieval goatherds were getting it on in a beautiful French meadow and were condemned to hell for it, do they get released now? What’s the PTSD like after a thousand years writhing in unthinkably intense agony?

    2. I’d assumed getting into heaven is like getting tenure — you’re set for the afterlife. But apparently it’s more like working for a psychopathic boss and the rules can change on the fly. This doesn’t sound like a particularly pleasant, stress-free existence.

  2. There is a god who cares very much what you do with your genitals, but the priesthood has been consistently misinterpreting him. This should shake your trust in organized religion — they can get God’s will totally wrong. What if God gave you your genitals for a reason, and you’re supposed to be using them joyfully in all sorts of ways, and the communication between heaven and earth is just totally garbled? He’s up there raging at the phone line like Bill O’Reilly muffing his lines, while the priests are straining to understand what he’s saying in all the bellowing and crackling static. “What’s that you say? Something about penises? Cut off what?” We could be committing all kinds of crimes of omission and emission without even knowing about it!

    1. What if god said, “I gave you men a prostate for a reason, you should be using it”, and all those straight males in a committed relationship who haven’t been getting pegged regularly by their wife are damned to hell? That would be a shocker at the pearly gates.

    2. We don’t know that the priests are getting it right even now. Maybe god really is a bronze-age patriarchal chieftain with bizarrely restrictive rules about sexual behavior, and those untrustworthy priests are translating those rules with more and more errors. You really can’t believe anything they say, whether you like their conclusions or not.

  3. There is a god who really doesn’t care much about what you do with your genitals — he has greater concerns that matter more. Maybe he only has two commandments, “Be excellent to one another” and “Party on!” and all this fussing over specific sexual practices is a gigantic distraction — you’re not going to get grilled about where your penis has been or what has gone into your vagina when you get to heaven at all. All this angst about sexual behavior is simply a reflection of the psychological hangups in the heads of the kinds of people who appoint themselves morality monitors.

    1. I have a suspicion that chopping off young women’s heads for losing their virginity won’t be compatible with “Be excellent to one another”. Neither is beating up people you meet at a gay bar.

    2. We really don’t know what the rules are any more. Maybe we should stop trying to imagine what a cosmic overlord in the sky wants us to do, and look to our fellow human beings for guidelines, instead.

  4. There is no god, no afterlife, no eternal punishment or reward. The priests have been making it all up, using this invisible boogeyman as a goad to get you to serve their earthly whims. You’ve been had, people, rise up and throw off your chains, cast down the church!

I kinda like #4 best.

I have to admit, though, that the most conservative religious people actually have one thing right: if you go around changing any of the rules, if you exhibit any flexibility in interpreting the faith, it means you have cause to question the whole elaborate edifice of religion — every wobble has the potential to cause the whole structure to come crashing down. The church is extremely rickety, which is why reason is such a threat to them.

But I also think that demolition would be a good thing.

Comments

  1. David Wilford says

    Well, *I* think it’s good news but then I’m a glass half-full kind of guy.

  2. steve oberski says

    Didn’t they recently do something similar with respect to owning slaves ?

    Was good, now bad ?

    And just like slavery, they will soon be releasing a new edition of their big book full of bad ideas with the relevant chapters and verses that denigrate this behaviour struck out.

    Because obviously those parts of the book were just plain wrong.

  3. voidhawk says

    “a.Related concern: is this retroactive? So if a pair of randy, lonely medieval goatherds were getting it on in a beautiful French meadow and were condemned to hell for it, do they get released now? What’s the PTSD like after a thousand years writhing in unthinkably intense agony?”

    Damnit, PZ! I’ve already got enough short story ideas desperate to be written without you adding more!

  4. steve oberski says

    I’m working on a new theory that postulates that theology is just a bad reflection of the timeless and eternal Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First” skit.

  5. David Wilford says

    Meh, in this case theology is just politics by other means. Which is what the CoE is doing with its change of tack, hoping to cling to what little bit of influence they still have.

  6. says

    Ah! but the CofE has a lot less to do with theology than you might think. To my certain knowledge they’ve had at least one bishop (Dr John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich) who was down in print as not believing in Heaven or Hell at all, or (as far as I could see) even in God to any noticeable extent.

    So whats a little change on marriage? (As long as it’s not the sovereign marrying a Roman Catholic I’m sure they don’t care what the sex of the participants are.)

  7. A Hermit says

    I’m a glass half-full kind of guy.

    half full, half empty…

    I’m with George Carlin; I think the glass is just too damn big.

  8. Parse says

    I don’t see the problem here – just like we’ve been at war with Oceania, the Church of England has always been in favor of gay marriage.

  9. raven says

    I have to admit, though, that the most conservative religious people actually have one thing right: if you go around changing any of the rules, if you exhibit any flexibility in interpreting the faith,

    Despite their hatred of the word evolution, religions evolve and quite rapidly.

    They are always changing those bedrock foundational, deeply important, cherished doctrines and dogmas.

    Most of the time, no one notices or cares.* The few people that do care, just split away and form another church. Which happens several times a year in the USA as the 42,000 One True Churches keep splitting into smaller fragments. That is how you get 28 diiferent Baptists.

    The Mormons drop polygamy on earth, Protestants ordain women, the RCC stops burning Heliocentrists at the stake and on and on.

    So we see Judaism giving rise to early xianities, evolving into the Catholic church, speciation into Protestants, which give rise to fundies, JW’s, and Mormons. Mormons give rise to the FLDS and dozens of other cults.

    * Religions evolve rapidly because they aren’t anchored in reality or reality testable. And why should they care? It’s all just make believe and let’s pretend anyway.

  10. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    The biggest trouble that I can think of for them is schism in the Anglican church, with the conservatives going their own way… and the related loss of income & etc.

    Popcorn, basically, as the CofE could not win either way it jumps. It loses either whatever UK establishment influence it has, or it’s own conservative wing! The next General Synod should be entertaining.

  11. David Wilford says

    Hey Hermit, as long as it’s the bitter tears of remorseful theologians I’m drinking, I’m happy.

  12. Sastra says

    The church is extremely rickety, which is why reason is such a threat to them.

    The church isn’t the ultimate foundation of religion, though: faith in subjective ways of knowing about a supernatural reality is the foundation — and they all crumble in the light of day when they rest on that fragile footing (even the more liberal humanist types of religion which already and always endorse gay marriage.) The minute you start to analyze faith-beliefs as if they were hypotheses instead of moral commitments it will all fall apart.

    When the churches get more liberal and secular, however, it gets harder and harder to maintain the fiction that no, it is very very important that God exists and we believe in that. So I suspect we should get ready to hear some new, polite, avuncular atheist-bashing from the mouthpieces of the good ol’ Church of England.

  13. anteprepro says

    Heh. It’s like Pascal’s Wager, except less inane and myopic, and applied to theology! “God cares but changes his mind, God cares but priests think he changed his mind, God doesn’t care but priests think he does one way or the other, or there is no God”. I’m fairly certain that most religionauts would go with option two and handwave away the implication of the priests who were/are wrong as Mere Fallible Mortal Humans who just didn’t have their magical bible reading abilities up to snuff. Completely willfully ignorant to the fact that this can be done to question the interpretations any religious person has of the bible, past and present. If so many priests, and so many followers, past and present, can be so fucking “wrong” in their “interpretations”, how are other priests and followers exempt from being “wrong” in the future? Everyone in the picture are Mere Fallible Mortal Humans, and the Bible really doesn’t help to straighten out who has the best interpretations of it. Really, it highlights the difference between science and religion: In science, you can go out into the world and discover new details to that will be consistent with whichever side is right and contradict the side that is wrong. In religion, you can go to your favorite book club, delve into the one book that everyone has been fucking reading and hyperparsing for centuries, and hope that you have finally found the right collection of passages to prove that you are right and they are wrong. There is nothing new in religion. New ability to gain added insight, extra assurance that one view is correct and another wrong. It is a constant tug of war over the same set of “facts”, with the only change being brought about by cultural changes in perspective, rather than it being part of the process of getting closer and closer to the objective truth.

  14. David Marjanović says

    The minute you start to analyze faith-beliefs as if they were hypotheses instead of moral commitments it will all fall apart.

    The Jesuits noticed immediately: they get all intellectual and analyze everything, but then they have the ultimate obedience clause and suddenly believe that black is white if the Church so teaches.

    When the churches get more liberal and secular, however, it gets harder and harder to maintain the fiction that no, it is very very important that God exists and we believe in that. So I suspect we should get ready to hear some new, polite, avuncular atheist-bashing from the mouthpieces of the good ol’ Church of England.

    I can’t bet against that. :-)

  15. Dauphni says

    As I understood it, all those people who are dead are really just still dead, with only a very few exceptions. Only when the End Times™ arrive (surely in our lifetime) do the dead rise and get judged. That’s what I read in the Bible, anyway.

  16. embertine says

    I think that is amazing given that literally yesterday, that ridiculous old moose Carey was stating that gay marriage was going to lead to polygamy, sibling marriage, and further signs of the end times. I give them props for knowing when they are beaten, I suppose.

  17. consciousness razor says

    Another set of possibilities:

    There may be more than one god, who may not entirely agree about the cosmic significance and/or ultimate purpose of your genitals, some of whom may have tried to make their views known to people, perhaps only half-heartedly or tentatively or as a joke or out of boredom or for the sake of being provocative, etc. Consequently, people could have gotten mixed signals or misunderstood the gods’ possibly somewhat conflicting commandments/recommendations/perspectives/bullshitting about genitalia and have come to prefer believing in some/no god(s) rather than the other(s).

    Of course, this is too complicated for a sermon and not condescending enough. You should instead say something along the lines of “God is love,” and everyone will understand exactly what they want to understand.

  18. mcrotk says

    >> I’d assumed getting into heaven is like getting tenure

    I wish preparing my tenure package was as easy as feigning belief in a zombie…

  19. says

    While reading #2 I had a fashback to the episode of the Sopranos in which two guys in the Pine Barrens are on the phone with Tony with a bad signal. He’s trying to warn them that the Russian mobster they’re chasing is very dangerous and that back in Russia “he was in the interior ministry.” One wise guy says to the other “Tony said he was an interior decorator.” “Yeah, but his place looked like crap.” And so on.

    This is actually a pretty good metaphor for the psychotic in the sky. Bad cell phone signal and marginally competent henchmen living as parasites off the work of others. Sounds right to me.

  20. Azuma Hazuki says

    Christianity has been hopelessly corrupt for a good 1700 years. Very, very few people know what kind of complete and utter snow job was pulled on us at the Council of Nicaea; I have a feeling Jesus would be repulsed to learn that for 1700 years people have been equating him with God, especially when you consider passages like “Why call ye me good? There is none good but one, which is the Father in Heaven” etc etc.

    Considering how completely off-message the entire religion in all its forms (save perhaps for the Nestorians) has been for…well, over 80% of its lifespan, this little kerfluffle is the least of its problems. Even the schism leading to Protestantism was small potatoes compared to that.

    The canonical Gospels aren’t attested to until the late second century (and I have a sneaking suspicion Irenaeus is the one who wrote John…), a good half the Pauline epistles are fakes, we no longer use the Didache or the Shepherd of Hermas or the Sybilline Oracles, Tertullian insists there was a materialization medium at his services, etc etc etc. What exists now would either not be recognized by Jesus at all…or would make him facepalm and yell about how we’ve all become pagans.

  21. says

    They’re atheists like us, they just don’t realize it. Anyone who claims to believe in a god really hasn’t examined that claim, or they’d spend their entire lives in a dark closet trying to avoid pissing it off.

  22. says

    Ockham’s Razor wins always.

    I’ve got to remember that next time someone near me is playing rock/paper/scissors. I’ll play “Ockham’s razor” for the win!

  23. Iain Walker says

    I suspect that a sizeable proportion of Anglicans would actually go for (2) or maybe even (3), and argue that although God is immutable and eternal and a jolly good fellow and all that, human perceptions of “Him” are fallible, and that while the Church has the basics right, some of the details are necessarily going to get filtered though flawed human ideologies and assumptions. Consequently one has to continually reflect on the True™ meaning of God’s Word and correct and improve matters as one goes along. They will then expect you to congratulate them on their humility and open-mindedness and will become sad when you point out that their new and improved interpretation of God’s wishes has no more rational basis than that of Fred Phelps, and that the only arguments that matter are the secular ones.

  24. says

    You haven’t thought about the theology

    (scratches a flea-bite on his head) That sure is some sophistimacated theology, PZ. I’m convinced!

  25. says

    I’m fairly certain that most religionauts would go with option two and handwave away the implication of the priests who were/are wrong as Mere Fallible Mortal Humans who just didn’t have their magical bible reading abilities up to snuff. Completely willfully ignorant to the fact that this can be done to question the interpretations any religious person has of the bible, past and present. If so many priests, and so many followers, past and present, can be so fucking “wrong” in their “interpretations”, how are other priests and followers exempt from being “wrong” in the future? Everyone in the picture are Mere Fallible Mortal Humans, and the Bible really doesn’t help to straighten out who has the best interpretations of it

    Especially since the writers of the original texts and the people who compiled them and the people who decided what writings were canonical and which heretical were also all Mere Fallible Mortal Humans.

    This is exactly the reason I was never a believer in any revealed religion. If so many modern Christians are wrong and can’t be trusted to possess the truth, how can anyone put their faith in the writings of other fallible men, even if they lived a long time ago? No one puts their faith in God. It’s always in what someone else told them about God.

  26. Iain Walker says

    Also, to give credit where credit is due, the linked Torygraph article does suggest that the Bishops in the House of Lords will be trying to fix some of the flaws in the bill where it doesn’t go far enough to ensure genuine equality (e.g., in the full recognition of the parental rights of same-sex spouses).

    On the other hand, they’re still looking for more opt-out clauses for bigots.

    The Church of England: Muddling Hither And Yon Since 1534.

  27. says

    Christianity has been hopelessly corrupt for a good 1700 years.

    That’s a very odd statement to make. From the start (i.e. when it was just an approach to the Judaism practised in early 1st century Galilee), it was a patchwork of ideas, mythologies, philosophies, and theologies. If there was a man, Jesus, at the original centre of what developed into Christianity, surely he wouldn’t have even recognised it as his own by the time of Paul’s epistles.

  28. says

    What is this “Theology” you speak of? It seems a pity that folks have devoted an entire field of study to a mere “article”, perhaps the most useless part of the English language. I’m not sure what this has to do with adolescent minded folk and their imaginary friends.

    On a serious note, this seems like a win-win: One less institution (albeit a useless one) supporting bigotry and hate and another wrench thrown into the gears of objective biblical morality.

    First they came to stop me from burning witches,
    and I didn’t stop believing in god.
    Then they came to take away my slaves,
    and I didn’t stop believing in god.
    Then they came to marry Adam and Steve,
    and I didn’t stop believing in god.
    Then they came to give me a hug,
    and there was no god to harden my heart.

  29. Abdul Alhazred says

    See that?

    Once you allow even just a little bit of degeneracy, such as allowing the king to divorce …

  30. Draken says

    Isn’t the only purpose of the CofE to allow the King to get a divorce (in those cases where he can’t afford to chop off his wife’s head)?

  31. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    …what if god, on a whim, decided that all marriage was an abomination, and you were supposed to practice free love? Are you prepared to obey?

    Yes, and with great gusto. Next question?

  32. Pteryxx says

    First they came to stop me from burning witches,
    and I didn’t stop believing in god.
    Then they came to take away my slaves,
    and I didn’t stop believing in god.
    Then they came to marry Adam and Steve,
    and I didn’t stop believing in god.
    Then they came to give me a hug,
    and there was no god to harden my heart.

    …changerofbits, may I award you this shiny new internetz. That deserves to be spread around so hard that it almost makes FB seem worthwhile.

  33. Moggie says

    On the other hand, as far as I know the CofE hasn’t yet withdrawn its opposition to the legalisation of humanist wedding ceremonies.

    In Scotland, a humanist wedding is legally recognised, on exactly the same footing as civil and religious weddings, provided it’s conducted by a legally registered celebrant. This was introduced in 2005, and has proven very popular: already, more couples are married this way than in Catholic ceremonies, and many people expect humanist weddings to overtake Church of Scotland weddings within a few years.

    So I suppose it’s no surprise that the CofE has opposed moves to legalise this popular form of marriage in England. Presumably, they see it hastening their slide into irrelevance, as well as cutting off a source of income. They have no legitimate argument for their position on this.

  34. David Marjanović says

    This is actually a pretty good metaphor for the psychotic in the sky. Bad cell phone signal and marginally competent henchmen living as parasites off the work of others. Sounds right to me.

    I’m delivering your Internet. Where should I put it?

    See that?

    Once you allow even just a little bit of degeneracy, such as allowing the king to divorce …

    That’s exactly what the Catholic Church will say – and it’ll continue to shrink.

    On a serious note, this seems like a win-win: One less institution (albeit a useless one) supporting bigotry and hate and another wrench thrown into the gears of objective biblical morality.

    + 1

    Then they came to give me a hug,
    and there was no god to harden my heart.

    ♥ ♥ ♥

    In Scotland, a humanist wedding is legally recognised, on exactly the same footing as civil and religious weddings

    Austria has a concordate with the Catholic Church – and does not recognise religious weddings at all. Marriage is a bureaucratic act, performed by a registrar.

    Traditionally, couples have a religious wedding the next day, and then they celebrate.

    England (I really do mean England this time :-) ) has an established church, so it’s only logical that CoE weddings are still recognised; does Scotland?

  35. mykroft says

    This reminds me of an episode in the TV series V, in which the leader of the Visitors wanted to get an endorsement by the Vatican. When the Vatican refused, she (the V leader) put on a display of Visitor’s technology. She then told the Vatican representatives that if they didn’t cooperate the Visitors would show the world that their technology could perform real miracles, and would make the Catholic Church irrelevant. Naturally, the Church chose to endorse the Visitors.

  36. robster says

    Jees, if they do this: “will soon be releasing a new edition of their big book full of bad ideas with the relevant chapters and verses that denigrate this behaviour struck out”, they’ll end up with a pamphlet, not a book. A couple of crumbling pages of slightly reduced nonsense for their brood of gullible suckers to believe in. Perhaps some nice colour pics will improve sales.

  37. Myk says

    I think you’re reading this wrong, PZ. It’s not a change of church doctrine, it’s a change of political stance. The “bishops in the House of Lords” do not control the Church of England. Having failed to convince enough of the House to reject the law, they are seeing a threat to Establishment of the church, and are scrambling to head it off.

  38. Amphiox says

    Jees, if they do this: “will soon be releasing a new edition of their big book full of bad ideas with the relevant chapters and verses that denigrate this behaviour struck out”, they’ll end up with a pamphlet, not a book.

    This has already been done. Not by a big religious organization, of course, but still.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible

    Ironically, the Religious Right in America, which lionizes the founding fathers to the level of saints, always ignores this….