Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bishop Henry Returns ...

It has been quite some time since I felt a need to address something that Calgary's Bishop Fred Henry has written.  Then I happened to wander past the Calgary Diocese website and read his latest "pastoral letter" (or whatever his columns on the website are officially known as).  The title is benign enough:  "Heal the Wounds, So Many Wounds ..." 

Unfortunately, what the reader is then subjected to is possibly the most offensive screed the Bishop has written in several years.

It starts off with one of the Bishop's standard attacks on "liberalism", and then goes after Transgender people:
The cutting edge of liberal culture is the attempt to label the two created human sexes, male and female, as arbitrary and unjust impositions on humanity. This involves an attempt to separate sex from gender, that is, the biological fact (human anatomy and chromosomal cellular structure) of the two human sexes from their social and cultural expressions, which they term "gender," and which is seen as totally socially constructed and in no way grounded in nature. 
Then, using such a phenomenon as hormonal treatment and "sex-change operations," they begin to deny the very stability and reality of the two created sexes. After that, they claim that whether or not one undergoes such an operation, one's subjective feeling about what sex/gender one is trumps the physical facts of one's body. 
- See more at: http://calgarydiocese.ca/messages-from-the-bishop/1362-heal-the-wounds-heal-the-wounds-so-many-wounds.html#sthash.jjOtfvFp.dpuf
Lovely, Bishop Henry.  I see that once again you have returned to your old haunts - by attacking that which you refuse to even attempt to understand.  Are you really going to argue that chromosomes define gender?  Or that physical anatomy defines gender?  Still?

I'm going to come back to this topic in a minute, because there are a couple of other gems in the Bishop's screed that I think warrant bringing to your attention.
The soul and the body are in a master/slave relationship, the former legitimately dominating and re-making the latter. For Biblical people, the body can never be construed as a prison for the soul, nor as an object for the soul's manipulation. Moreover, the mind or will is not the "true self" standing over and against the body; rather, the body, with its distinctive form, intelligibility, and finality, is an essential constituent of the true self. 
Let me get this straight - the Bishop wishes to argue that the distinction between gender and sex that there is actual evidence for, is overruled by the mythology of a soul (which may or may not exist - I haven't seen any evidence which objectively substantiates such a claim), and somehow the "soul and body are intertwined", and therefore couldn't possibly be at odds with each other?  Sure ...
Tolerance is a working principle that enables us to live in peace with each other and their ideas. Most of the time it is a good thing. But it is not an end in itself, and to tolerate or excuse a grave evil in society is itself a grave evil. 
Oh, even better.  He doesn't quite go as far as saying it, but essentially the Bishop is saying that transgender people are a "grave evil".   Wow - that's quite a claim, Bishop.  Just what is the evil that transgender people are perpetrating?

Let's come back to the Bishop's complaint that gender and sex are inextricably linked with each other for a moment.  We already know plenty of situations where chromosomes and anatomy don't fully align, such as a woman with a 46 XY karyotype, or perhaps he'd prefer to review Swaab's 2009 paper about brain differentiation during gestation.  Either way, the Bishop's argument that chromosomes or genitalia tell the "whole story" is complete nonsense.

As for gender roles, we know those are in large part social constructs.  The impact of messages in mass media about how boys should behave or what girls should do are pervasive, as are the messages we live with in our social circles.  The effect of these in socialization is neither trivial nor easily ignored.  Yet, we have a lot of transgender people who manage to successfully transition and blend into their new social roles.  If the two were inextricably linked as the Bishop claims, this would seem to be a nearly impossible task, and yet it happens.

As for the Bishop's implicit declaration that transgender people are some kind of "grave evil", I would suggest to the Bishop that he needs to substantiate just what this grave evil might be.  What I see are a lot of people bravely living their lives as honestly as possible.  If the Bishop thinks that this is "deceptive" and "evil", perhaps the Bishop needs to be reminded of the old saw about "walking a mile in another person's shoes".   There are a good many people in the Transgender community as a whole who might justifiably take umbrage at the Bishop's attempt to invalidate their reality and lived experiences.