Sunday, 21 March 2010

Understanding the difference between a symbol and the real thing

There is always a danger when a science writer strays into writing about religion, as Richard Dawkins has so ably demonstrated by putting everyone's backs up. But I'm afraid I just have to wade in after something I heard on the steam wireless.

This wasn't news, it was a documentary, so could be refering to something that happened some while ago, but apparently some clergyman or other commented that 'Women priests are witches who ought to be burned at the stake,' (not an exactly worded quote, but that was the jist). When interviewed he admitted this was hyperbole, but his point was that he found it ludicrous that a woman could represent Christ, who was a man.

Now this is wrong on so many levels, I don't know where to start.

To take what he said literally, I've been represented by a woman MP for years now. So it is possible for a man to be represented by a woman. But maybe that's not what he meant. What I think he was driving at was that the vicar/priest symbolically represents Christ when he does his bit at the altar. Okay, fine. And your point is? A symbol is, by definition, not the thing it represents. Otherwise it would be the thing itself, not a symbol. A woman can symbolically represent a man, just as some paint on a canvas can represent a landscape or a person. Or a button in a lift with the number 2 on it can represent the second floor. I don't suppose said moaning clergyman would not get in a lift because a number on a button can't possibly represent the floor of a building.

Also, why pick particularly on Christ's attribute of being a man? He was also a jew. Should all vicars/priests be jewish? He was ethnically middle eastern. So no vicars from the UK, then? And he was not born in the 20th century. So presumably no vicars or priests should be allowed who were born in the 20th century? Doesn't make sense? No, of course it doesn't. Neither does the assumption that the male aspect has to be, erm, religiously followed.

What people who take this stance don't want to admit is that they are really resorting to a form of magic. Not magic a la Tommy Cooper or Paul Daniels, but ritual magic. The only possible reason for saying that a woman can't fulfil the role is that you believe the magic won't work unless a man does the job. I can't claim to understand most Christians' belief systems, but this seems far fetched for the majority.

Recent developments in the Catholic Church have shown the damage that can be caused by the hugely damaging decision to have celibate priests. (Something even the Catholics didn't have for hundreds of years, so in no sense a requirement of theology, just an arbitrary rule.) It's time that Christians recognized that the rejection of women as priests equally has no basis in theology, nor in logic. It really isn't a matter of changing with the times - the decision not to have women priests (and there is a degree of evidence that the early church did have some) never made any sense.

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