Even God Himself is now being gender-neutralised
The Church of England is turning into just another zombie institution.
The men in dresses are at it again. ‘Now even God could be going gender neutral’, quavered Wednesday’s Daily Mail front page, the whites of its eyes clearly visible, framing the boggling type. And while the Mail has form for bolting before the saddle-straps of a story are fully checked and tightened, this does indeed seem to be the thrust of proposals presented by the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission.
‘We have been exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years’, confirmed the Bishop of Lichfield. ‘A new joint project on gendered language will begin this spring.’
At some level of course, most of us know that there is a tiny, aggravating grain of truth in the notion that Our Father, who art in Heaven, is not really a bloke and not literally a father.
The language of the Old Testament, in particular, does suggest that He is male. It presents a God not merely masculine, but possessed of all the virtues and, let’s say, quirks that might enliven a patriarch in the Deep South of William Faulkner or Tennessee Williams. This God has agency, and an agenda, much like the lower-case gods who confound the best laid plans of Hector and Achilles in the Iliad. His wrath and His mercy are no less personal, no more reliable than the moods of other mythical protagonists. A great deal of our cultural imagery – from Giotto and Michelangelo to Milton and Dante, to the King James Bible and beyond – has also largely continued in the tradition of presenting God as male.
However, nowadays the Bible is not often taken so literally. God’s ‘fatherhood’ is understood as purely metaphorical by all but the most stubbornly literal. The insight that there is probably no bearded old man gazing down at us from a cloud-borne throne is one that strikes most of us as profound in year four or five, and old hat by big school. And it is part of the strength, or what remains of it, of the Church of England that this evolution in thought has happened naturally, and without recourse to diktats from above.
Jesus, on the other hand, was a bloke. Deny that and you really might as well fold the tabernacle entirely.
So, what is going on? Why is this issue demanding even a scintilla of the meanest bishop’s time? The Church is already confronting an existential crisis – one that is vastly more likely to be exacerbated by focussing attention on this sort of thing, rather than, say, poverty, societal breakdown, or even just Easter and garden fetes. Is the Church of England quite mad?
Possibly. After all, this, it will not have escaped our readers’ notice, is not the first eruption of what might safely be filed under ‘woke nonsense’ into the troubled Church’s recent media profile. For instance, it recently announced its first nonbinary priest (called, perhaps in homage to another once reassuring but now fast-sinking rock of ages, Bingo). While last year, the convincingly primate-like ex-archbishop Rowan Williams referred to transgender reassignment as a ‘sacred journey’.
On Twitter, the gender-neutral God row has been met with palpable frustration and exasperation from the faithful. Some have accused the media of shit-stirring, of blowing the debate out of all proportion and of needlessly amplifying the views of a tiny minority in the Church. Others, however, have acknowledged that this is just the way the Church of England operates now, or is at least ‘how a very large portion of the country sees us’. Jokes about ‘Our Magic Parental Unit who art in Heaven’ have been typical, too. As has the question ‘Why are we doing this? Who are we rewriting history for?’
A good question. I have my suspicions.
There is a very popular TV show on Sky Atlantic at the moment called The Last of Us. Dramatically, it is a pretty familiar zombie-apocalypse proposition, based on a videogame of the same name, in which the usual sort of quest is being undertaken through the familiar ruins of Boston and Detroit, by the usual sort of ill-suited partnership – a gnarly old Han Solo type, and a would-be cynical, but actually deeply vulnerable young girl / Christ-like hope for humanity.
So far, so meh. But it stands out, for me, for the precise mechanism it has selected for the end of humanity. Not voodoo myths, a dropped phial of bird flu or the ill-advised bulking out of muesli with composted human brains. Instead, the zombies are caused by the plausible evolutionary adaptation of a real-world fungus, of the genus called Cordyceps.
This monster really does exist and really does make its victims behave badly, against their will – just, so far, only so long as the victims are mere insects such as ants and wasps. There are any number of fungi at that scale which can inhabit non-mammalian entities and make them behave in a manner grotesquely counter to their own best interests, in order that the fungus, quite indifferent to its host’s fate, can spread.
Meanwhile, there is a worm, which goes among its human students by the name of Leucochloridium, that creates an even more vivid and alarming spectacle, by invading snails and putting on a disco in their eye-stalks. This unsettling display deliberately mimics the appearance of colourful caterpillars, which are then eaten by obliging birds, whose later defecation some distance away provides the crucial next stage of the cycle. Even those of us forced to rely on Southern Rail might reasonably recoil from such a logistical solution to distribution challenges.
My suggestion, if it is not too thunderously obvious, is that the Church of England has, like so many of our most treasured institutions, succumbed to something very similar. That it has been captured and commandeered by one of these parasites. Whether we prefer the fungus or worm metaphor, there are likely those within its ranks who do not have its best interests at heart.
It is surely obvious, with even a moment’s reflection, that the proposal to gender-neutralise God, along with many other proposed changes that seem to contort and disfigure this beloved old Bagpuss of a church on a daily basis, are not proposed by those who wish to reassure the faithful. Or by those who have dedicated their lives to the church. Or those who take solace in the message of redemption, and the possibility that there is a dimension to life invisible on the temporal and material plane, which is reached through faith, hope, prayer and love.
Rather, they are proposed by those who seek only to further the relentless ‘progressive’ agenda. Those who desire the dismantling, the erosion and eradication of those traditions that created a strong, musculoskeletal system on which Western civilisation itself was able to form, and with which it has walked through the valley of the shadow of death these past two thousand years.
And I am very much afraid that if they are not stopped soon, the Church itself will be just another zombie on the path to hell.
Simon Evans is a spiked columnist and stand-up comedian.
Picture by: Getty.
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