Friday, 18 July 2014

The sun also moves

The conservative evangelical block, which holds that men must never be taught by women, was not entirely pacified by the promise that a male bishop will be appointed who shares their view that the "headship" of the church must be male. Several of their speakers expressed the fear that if men and women were treated as equal in the church this would undermine the arguments against samesex marriage, which they now regard as a much more important battle.
The guardian
In the historical process by which the theory of geocentrism was supplanted by that of heliocentrism, the concept of 'centre' was retained - it was necessary, it seems, in that moment, psychologically necessary perhaps, to replace one centre with another. The alternative of 'no centre' remained unthinkable - thus change often occurs by means of an act of holding on, it is permitted in the context of preserving an essential component. Social transformation takes the form of a series of substitutions at the centre - a new occupant accedes to the same position.

Somewhere along the line of development in particular histories, the idea of this 'centre' loses its value and is quietly abandoned, as if by accident. But this gesture of relinquishment cannot be deliberately decided upon. Something within historical process prevents 'change everything' from becoming the principle of transformation. It is as if political disputes over the way forward may only fix upon that which is already changeable - the separable content but not its received form. A particular government carries the potential for its own removal but only on condition of the promotion of a replacement.

The problem for revealed religions has always been how to shield their presentation of the eternal from the attritional effect of cumulative historical changes. At some point in history, as the saying goes, the accumulation of changes induces the transformation of quantity into quality. There is a point where cumulative changes qualitatively exceed the mere succession of substitutions at the conserved centre. A new king or a new president can certainly introduce far-reaching changes to which a religion must adapt, but new times might propose 'no king', and that vacancy is much more difficult to adjust to.

Religious structures exemplify the imperative problematic of adaptation: how many recognisable details of an elephant would have to change before it is no longer considered to be an elephant? At what point in history does Christianity, the most historicised of religions, become absorbed into something else? What would Christianity have to hold on to remain recognisably itself? To ensure its survival, what might it permit to let fall by the wayside?

There are numerous well-established pathways along which the ideal of the eternal is conserved by religion whilst at the same time adapting to the endless accession of new kings in different domains: literalist ceremonies becomes a metaphor; exceptions are derived from close minority readings; the 'domain' of the spirit is recalibrated, and relocated to other areas of life.

For all their adaptations to what has already occurred, historicised religions must also retain some assertive capacity for shaping the future. Doors must be left open to the as yet unknown, to the next epoch. All passage between states presupposes gestures of relinquishment at the border of new times - choosing between what has to be given up and what is to be retained is the great either/or of  dynamic structures. Not only does an entity have to pass through changing circumstances, it must also permit its own self-alteration - it becomes both gatekeeper and pilgrim.

The purpose of religion is always to preserve the designated sacred space, or rather (and here I picture one of Greene's renegade, whiskey priests with sacrament and altar in his suitcase) it is to keep open the portal between its domain and other. No matter the diminution of the sacred domain itself, of greater concern is to keep live the channels for passage, or transports, between states which it the sacred permits. Without access to an elevated field of reference, and that might measure no more than a pinhead, consciousness cannot enter its altered state, its orientation to the miraculous without it.

Considered in terms of transports between the profane and the sacred, the question of 'women bishops' remains problematic, but at the level of 'bishops' rather than at the level of 'women'. The former have become the preserved centre of otherwise sweeping changes, and a shared point of accession between competing claims. At the same time, all that which 'bishop' designates has become altered - transformed into the function of another apparatus. The real problematic, which the institutional controversy of the 'role of women' somewhat obscures (but which may eventually open a way through), is twofold, the first concerns the abolition of bishops and religion altogether and the second takes its shape around the defence of the sacred against technocratic encroachment.

Let he who has ears!