Author Topic: Gender and Identity: Freeing the Bible from Modern Western Anxieties  (Read 661 times)

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Offline Cindy

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An interesting and thoughtful discussion by The Reverend Canon Professor Scott Cowdell. Research Professor in Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University, Canberra, and Canon Theologian of the Canberra-Goulburn Anglican Diocese.

"The Genesis accounts of humanity's creation have been annexed by Western anxieties and made to tell a less nuanced, more linear story about human identity than they actually provide."

ABC religion and ethics/by Scott Cowdell     09/14/2017
« Last Edit: September 14, 2017, 11:41:07 am by stephaniec »

Offline Tommie_9

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Re: Gender and Identity: Freeing the Bible from Modern Western Anxieties
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2017, 07:58:56 am »
Thank you for sharing. As a non-binary-femme transgender person, self-described anthropologist, educated as a sociologist, I found it interesting, but not convincing. As a lay-scholar of the Bible, with some biblical education, I found his position too ambiguous, and in my opinion, trying to have it both ways.

I've studied the two creation stories in the Bible, and pointed them out to people who care. God created androgynous, non-binary, humans first. The binary sexes, as I agree with the author on this point, which is his major point that gets lost in his "politically correct" apologetics, were differentiated later.

I understand his context, but I completely disagree with the premise that the Hebrew and Christian Bible as they have been translated and edited over time are authoritative and intended to be understood literally. He hints at this but doesn't fully commit to it, leaving room for his peers to withhold harsh judgement against him. Neither is it timeless in every respect, while it does contain timeless message, such as "God is Love" (1 John 4:9) and the Jesus' commandment to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

Besides, many books and gospels didn't make it into the Bible, the so-called 'canon' of the 4th century CE, we have on our shelves today. They didn't agree with the theological predisposition of the bishops backed by the Roman emperor, Constantine. For more than a thousand years, the Bible was even withheld from the masses and possessing one would get you burned at the stake.

I can't find either kind of love in bigotry and the misuse of Biblical passages to give false justification for exclusion and discrimination of all kinds, including its use in some quarters of religion to discriminate against women and minorities, not to mention to a greater extent the LGBTQ community. My point is this, words in the Bible are not authoritative unless a person subjects themselves to it and identifies as a member of that tribe. The Bible message is written on our hearts, not on the pages of a book.

God or whatever notion we have of a supreme power, if at all, speaks directly to us through our hearts and not our heads. God is where the heart is. The kind of argument put forth by this author is what I consider arguing "inside the box," which actually has the support of some misguided intellectuals. The box being the premise that the Bible is humankind's ultimate authority. I don't mean to offend anyone, I respect everyone's right to choose a belief system, but this is how my individual spirituality has evolved over time, and this is something I've taken more seriously than most of my peers.

My "freedom", such as it is, and the acceptance of my authentic self followed my spiritual awakening and removal from the confines of the narrow-minded box of conservative evangelicalism. Just preach love whether you identify with a religion or are an atheist - doesn't matter. Love is all there is when everything else is stripped away.  :angel:
Finding 'self' is the first step toward becoming 'self'. Every step is part of a journey. May your journey lead to happiness. Peace!

Offline Deborah

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Re: Gender and Identity: Freeing the Bible from Modern Western Anxieties
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2017, 09:43:51 am »
There is another Biblical argument for our point of view not mentioned in the article.  In Genesis it states that God created humans in his own image.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, RSV2CE)

In fact it is often this very passage invoked against us.  Both Catholics and Evangelicals will say it is a sin for us to alter that which was created in God's image.  So it is useful then to explore exactly what "created in his own image" means.  Genesis 2 describes the creation of man as a two step process.

  “ then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7, RSV2CE)

According to Christian theology then we are both body and spirit, the two together forming a living soul.  The body, that which dies, is formed from the dust of the earth, or from elements of matter.  The spirit, that which does not die is given to us by God.  The scriptures state that God is Spirit, not flesh from the dust of the earth.  Therefore it follows that when the scripture states we are created in God's image it is the spirit he breathed into us that forms that image and not the dust of the earth.

“ God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24, RSV2CE)

It is our mind, our ability to reason, that is the image of God.  Our body is simply matter that does not share in God's image.  St. Thomas Aquinas stated this very eloquently in the 13th Century,

"Man is said to be after the image of God, not as regards his body, but as regards that whereby he excels other animals. Hence, when it is said, Let us make man to our image and likeness, it is added, And let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea (Gen. 1:26). Now man excels all animals by his reason and intelligence; hence it is according to his intelligence and reason, which are incorporeal, that man is said to be according to the image of God."
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.).

How this applies to those who are transgender is clear.  By altering our bodies in some manner through HRT or surgeries we bring that which is not in the image of God. the body, into agreement with that which is in the image of God, the mind.  This would appear not to be sin at all.

A further argument made by our adversaries is that since God created man then mind and body cannot be opposition to each other.  However, the scriptures once again disagree with their argument.  St. Paul states,

“ For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” (Galatians 5:17, RSV2CE)

So while God may have initially created body and spirit in perfect harmony, this perfect harmony no longer exists.  Does this then leave us with the freedom, in the Christian context, to alter our bodies to harmonize with our mind?  Catholics and Evangelicals will reply no, that any alteration of body through HRT or surgery is a mutilation of God's creation and therefore a sin.  Once again, scripture disagrees with their statement.  According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says,

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:43–48, RSV2CE)

Body parts then are not inviolable according to God, at least not when those body parts are the occasion for sin.  In our circumstance this is certainly the case as the dysphoria caused by the disharmony of mind and body leads to disruptions in mental health resulting in the many bad outcomes we are all familiar with up to and including suicide.

It is ironic then that the solution offered by Catholics and Evangelicals is to alter the mind to bring it into harmony with the body.  They state then that it is God's will to change what was created in his image to harmonize with what is not in his image.  This to me is an unsatisfactory response to what Scripture tells us about the nature of body and spirit.
Love is not obedience, conformity, or submission. It is a counterfeit love that is contingent upon authority, punishment, or reward. True love is respect and admiration, compassion and kindness, freely given by a healthy, unafraid human being....  - Dan Barker

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Offline RobynD

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Re: Gender and Identity: Freeing the Bible from Modern Western Anxieties
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2017, 10:02:18 am »
Deborah - i really like your closing statement there and had never really thought of it that way, but can see it totally. If God is neither male or female, why are we trying to force a conforming to a bodily shell that in the end, may be in the image of God but is a corrupted thing. Indeed, often when Christians describe what the new "spiritual" body will look like, they envision a sort of genderless container. Although there is no scripture to back that up per se.

I always struggle with any assertion that the books of the Bible are to be taken literally, out of context etc. They can be useful and authoritative without being those things.

The popular Christian book on gender dysphoria from Yarhouse - i highly recommend it. It is far from perfect, but he discusses this issue about mind conforming to body, rather than than body to mind and he has a balanced argument for the latter. He finishes the book sort of haphazardly trying to please everyone, but nevertheless it is a amazing that a fairly conservative writer wrote it.

Btw: Great new avatar picture