Saturday, 5 July 2008

Female bishops

The church of England is to debate on whether to allow female bishops. The BBC claims that 1300 clergy have threatened to leave the church over the issue.

I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering what all the fuss could possibly be about. They already have female vicars, so why not bishops? Well according to the BBC, some of the reasons given are as follows:

1. Jesus chose only men as his disciples. I don't understand this argument at all. It wouldn't hold in any other profession. You can't say "our first CEO was a man, so obviously we could never give a woman the job". Not only can you not make that argument legally, but you wouldn't, because it doesn't make sense. You give the job to the best candidate for obvious reasons, but also because of your duty to your employees and/or shareholders. But this kind of common sense doesn't hold in the church for some reason. It's better to choose the worse candidate than to choose a woman for purely historical reasons. Perhaps Jesus chose the best candidates? Perhaps the fact that he chose men was more a measure of society (or his own personal rather than divine preferences) than any doctrinal teaching. I don't remember the part of the bible where Jesus specifies the hierarchy of the church of England. In fact, I seem to remember that if anything, he was not a fan of that kind of thing. These points are conveniently forgotten by the objectors.

2. There is an unbroken chain of male bishops since then. If anything, this is an even worse argument. First, the facts are highly disputable. It sounds as though these objectors imagine Jesus as the founder of the Church of England. In fact, assuming he existed at all, he wasn't even the founder of Christianity. I think we have to credit Paul of Tarsus with that. Second, it reduces to argument 1 above, but without even the bad excuse that Jesus was in some way hinting that we shouldn't have bishops. "We've always done things this way, it might be bad luck to change."

3. "A man ordained by a woman might not be properly ordained, and might not in reality be a priest". This might be the most astonishing argument I've ever seen. It's hard to know where to begin. First, I'm not sure why it would apply only to men being ordained by women. Why not women being ordained by women or women being ordained by men? Second, what on Earth could 'properly ordained' mean, if it is not something defined by the church into which people are being ordained? That's what 'ordained' means. Third, what could it possibly mean to not be a priest 'in reality'? Casting aside for a moment the fact that 'in reality' hardly makes sense in this context anyway, surely what it means to be a priest is to say you are. All the rest of the nonsense is about being affiliated with a particular church, being an 'official' priest, if you like.

The idea of people leaving the church over an issue like this is also astonishing. First, it is just so childish. They're letting people I don't like into my club so I'm leaving, so there. Second, what are they going to do instead? I bet a whole bunch would join another club, suddenly deciding to change their life-long cherished beliefs overnight and believing in a slightly different brand of nonsense.

What does this say for their convictions? It says that their convictions about just not wanting to be told what to do by a woman are stronger than their convictions about the faith they claim defines their entire lives.

I can't help but think sometimes that what religious people really want is something to complain about. They want to rail against some aspect of reality to prove how pious they are. Hence creationists, hence suicide bombers and hence people being drama queens over a slight change in rules that brings the entire church slightly more in line with the reality of the day.

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