Women Bishops

The Church of England has recently voted against allowing females to become bishops, falling just short of the 2/3rd majority needed to overturn the status quo.

As an atheist I’m not overly concerned by this. While I agree with the point made by a friend of mine – that as long as Bishops are invited to sit in the House of Lords and moralise on issues of the day this vote means that voice will be exclusively male – my general inclination is to ignore the internal politicking of an organisation for which I have zero respect anyway. (The issue of this internal politicking affecting the wider society is a separate one.)

But I wasn’t always an atheist. I was bought up CofE, I went to a CofE primary school and continued to attend Sunday Mass when I went to my very non-religious secondary school. This was up until I was about 16 when the church voted against the ordination of gay priests. At least I think that’s what is was. It may have been about one of the other homophobic policies of the Anglican church. I can’t remember and I’m actually very grateful that it’s all fading into the distant past. Anyway, I remember clearly that whatever decision had been made it disgusted me. I had been a very pious child, and had taken religion seriously, but I had also been raised not to be prejudiced against someone because of their sexuality.

I recognised this as a crunch point. I could either abandon the principles of tolerance and fairness, or I could turn my back on the church. I chose the latter with no difficulty whatsoever.

What followed was a 2 year period of transition where I still identified as a Christian but separated from the Church, through a stage of saying I believed in a deity but without the confines of theism, and then rejecting the concept in its entirety. By the time I went to University I was calling myself an atheist. It took a while to sort my ideas out, but once I stopped attending church services it was suddenly a lot easier to think for myself. All the critical faculties which I had deliberately kept away from my faith were free to engage and eventually I concluded that this was all nonsense.

Had things not turned out this way I may have remained a Christian, and would be more qualified to speak to the current issue of the ordination of female bishops. As it is I only have what scraps of church dogma remain in my memory with which to try to fathom this decision. It’s not much to go on, but there is one pertinent piece of scripture I can recall: If your hand or eye or any other part of you causes you to sin, cut it off.

Now the bible has unarguably got some messed-up shit in it. Gang rape, genital mutilation, murder – fun for the whole family. So the above words are perhaps to be taken literally. Perhaps we really are supposed to slice off parts of our bodies if they cause us to sin. Of course this doesn’t pay a whole heap of respect to the idea that the brain is pretty much in control of everything, and human limbs are not usually given to acting of their own accord. But then the bible isn’t known for its compatibility with modern science.

So perhaps this is better understood figuratively for groups of people. If you have an organisation, and an element within that organisation goes off-message and starts doing stuff which is antithetical to the aims of the whole, you should expel that element.

But if that’s the case, how the hell can the cause of ‘Unity’ be cited as a justification for this result? If the church has modernised, as it so often professes to have done, but there are factions within it which want to hang on to the misogynistic values of old – get rid of them. If you truly find what they are saying and doing to be abhorrent, cut them loose and good riddance.

When I was a kid, sometimes I had friends who wanted me to do Bad Things. The advice given from all the grown-ups I knew, quite specifically the religious leaders, was “You don’t need friends like that! If they really are your friends they wouldn’t ask you to do something wrong.”

So to the people who claim to personally be in favour of female bishops but have voted no because the consensus isn’t yet there: who exactly are you friends? You would go against what you believe to retain their approval? Or are you using this as a cover for your own prejudices?

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