You are worth more…

Towards a positive view of Christian Chastity

In 2014 there was a scandal when private “naked pictures” taken of various celebrities were leaked to the press.

One of the women involved said: “I started to write an apology, but I don’t have anything to say I’m sorry for. I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.”*

If it is possible for someone to say of a relationship which only lasted four years, and in which the woman felt her boyfriend would look at porn unless she made a substitute for him out of pictures of herself, that it was “healthy”, “great”, and “loving” what does that say about what Western culture now means by those words? And how it is possible to communicate a different set of values across such a language barrier?

I think Christian ethics, including chastity (that is, sexual activity within marriage only, where marriage is between one man and one woman, and is a commitment for life) is partly about God’s care for human worth and human dignity**. An understanding of this aim can be seen very plainly in what is said about social justice***, but it doesn’t seem to be as quickly applied to sex.

You, and your living body, made in God’s image and destined for resurrection and eternal joy, are worth more than this. They are worth more than to be reduced to a matter of casual enjoyment for yourself or another, worth more than to be used against their biological nature and physical potential****, worth more, even, than to be given in any situation other than an absolute commitment for life to you and to any children you may have together*****. You are worth having another commit their life completely to you, and the intimacy of your body should not be given or received at any lesser value.

Wedding_ring_Louvre_AC924 Byzantium 7th c AD Wikimedia com no copyright
Byzantium wedding ring, 7th century AD, showing Christ uniting the bride and groom. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

*Jennifer Laurence, https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2014/10/jennifer-lawrence-photo-hacking-privacy. Though I oppose the attitude to relationships expressed, my sympathies are entirely with her regarding the wrongful violation of her privacy.

**See previous post: “On the nature of God’s commands”.

*** For example, when people talk about the dignity of labour and the fact that the person should be paid a living wage.

**** It is impossible to write on this issue in modern times, and completely avoid the issue of sexual activity between people of the same sex: I appreciate the issue is both complex and sensitive, and what I wanted to say touches on it obliquely rather than being about it, which in some ways I feel is not ideal. However, I think it is better to be immediately open about what I mean and where I’m coming from, as confusion about what different people are really saying is a serious problem in this debate. I believe God’s love is unconditional and is given freely to all people regardless of their inclinations, sexual or otherwise. I have no strong opinion either way on the question of romantic and physically celibate same-sex relationships, though in accord with traditional Christianity I oppose same-sex marriage (I will write on why I don’t think same-sex marriage makes sense in detail sometime: it is one of the most interesting academic debates I’ve ever been involved in). I also think that non-violent sex between consenting adults should be legal.

However, I do in all honesty believe that sexual activity is always unethical between people of the same sex, (a) because it doesn’t make sense to set aside the scriptural standard and replace it with one of our own, and (b) because part of using our bodies to love others is to respect the reality of the potential and nature of the human body, and the bodies of people of the same sex are not adapted or created for sexual relationships with each other. It is worth noting that I would apply (a) to a lot of similar issues, including cohabitation and our approach to divorce and remarriage.

[N.B. I will be interested to read and publish comments of the form “I don’t agree because”, whatever you have to say, but I will not publish anything along the lines of “these dreadful people who…” whether referring to people who are homosexual or people who don’t agree with the liberal agenda.]

*****This is not to condemn every sexually active relationship between two people who are not conjugally married as evil in every way. From the academic point of view, it is possible to admire the commitment a business owner has to their workers, while wishing they would not go in for sharp practice on the stock exchange or dodge their taxes. Similarly, it is possible to admire the good things about a relationship, while believing it would be even better – meet more fully the plans God has for our joy – if it were also chaste (i.e. if the couple abstained from sexual relations unless and until marriage was appropriate). From the personal point of view, I am also a sinner, and have no right to judge.

Cherry Foster

Under the Skin – 21 Misleading or Misinterpreted Habits of an INFJ

A somewhat frustrated and “way too honest” account of the geography of the different planet I occupy…

800px-Lenticulariswolke UFO cloud - wikipedia commons, copyright to attribution
Lenticular cloud in shape of a UFO. Source Wikimedia Commons.

Myers-Briggs is pretty controversial, but I think it is useful if you respect it for what it is, and only expect it to do what follows from that. It isn’t hard science and shouldn’t be treated as such: if what’s wanted is a personality typing which measures what job people will do best with the same type of analysis and accuracy as we measure the weight of a mole of carbon, then Myers-Briggs isn’t it – and indeed, I’d argue that we won’t ever come up with any such thing because personality isn’t that sort of concept.

However, if it is a matter of wanting conceptual theories about human difference which help people understand what’s likely to help them function better, or why they find that other person really annoying or insensitive despite the fact they obviously don’t mean to be, I think this type of observation about preference and functionality are helpful. I also find it helpful when it comes to trying to accept my own “raw material” – for example, it makes sense of the oft scorned truth that being “over”-sensitive is part of how God made me and not a moral choice. There are ways it is right for me to respond to that tendency, and ways it would not be right to respond, but the simple fact just is.

More theory on the subject can be found on this site and here.

I am (probably) an INFJ, which is the rarest personality type, combining personality traits that people don’t expect to see in the same person.

Anyone else relate to any of these?

  • I’m impossibly sensitive about asking direct questions.Yes, I’m genuinely worried that if I ask “how are you”, you’ll be offended or upset, or that you’ll actually find it intrusive, overwhelming, or unhelpful. I can see how this could be the case, particularly for people in certain life situations or who do certain types of job. And I really don’t want to make your life more difficult. I fear this often comes across as a complete lack of interest in other people’s lives. Actually, I do want to know (unless I’m being overwhelmed by my own unprocessed emotions at the time). But I find it really scary to ask.
  • I really am both emotional and analytical. Our culture is a bit liable to assume an emotional woman can’t think, or that a woman who thinks is being cynically manipulative in any display of emotion. This isn’t true. The auxiliary and tertiary functions of the INFJ – extraverted feeling and introverted thinking – can be quite close in development, and I’ve spent more time in the realm of the latter than the former.
  • I don’t do eccentric things for the sake of it. I will do anything eccentric if there is a good reason for it, without batting an external eyelid – and being disabled, there is often reason to function in a non-conventional way. And I am an emotional sponge. If you expect me to do something eccentric and don’t give me time to think, I will probably oblige you! But I don’t do eccentric things for the sake of it, and it drives me crazy when people assume I do. I would love to be more conventional. Circumstances didn’t oblige.
  • I can’t move on without sorting out what’s already happened.  If you want to tell me something I’m doing is causing you real problems, and I’m completely oblivious, believe me, I want to know. But it really matters to me that people accept, and say they accept, that I had good reasons for doing what I did, or that there wasn’t any way I could have realised it was causing problems, and that I made a socially conscientious decision. Otherwise it feels like a personal attack. If people don’t spontaneously say they understand my reasoning, then my instinct is to defend it, not because I necessarily disagree about change, but because I’m seeing something different as important.
  • How people talk to me about a decision is often more important than the fact it wasn’t the decision I wanted. Several years ago I was in two very similar situations of rejection. One still hurts me. I was upset about the other at the time, but that was all. The difference? In the one case, I felt I was more or less told not to be silly. In the other case, the person involved acknowledged what an awful position it put me in. Feeling is turned outwards in the INFJ. This means it can be difficult for us to respond to our own emotions unless others empathise.
  • I don’t negotiate in the way people expect. I like creative compromise, i.e. attempting to solve conflicts of need by creating a situation where things can work well enough for everyone, I process things from a lot of different angles quickly, and I care about truthfulness. So I tend to start negotiating from my authentic final position, and come to the table with what I’ve concluded real compromise should look like. From that point I want trade-offs and creative sideways movement if it won’t work, i.e., I expect the further discussion to be “that won’t work for us, but if we did this, would it work for you?” to which I might say “yes, that sounds good,” or “no, but the problem with that is X, so if you could do Y too” and so on
  • When negotiating, I don’t respond well to people expecting more concessions than I initially offered, rather than offering trade-offs. I find people demanding movement on what I say I need and trying to beat more concessions out of me very hostile. It feels to me like an accusation of insincerity, in that it implies the position I’ve brought to the table is false. And I tend to read it as meaning both that you think I’m being selfish (in demanding more than I really need) and that you’re actually being selfish (because you don’t seem to have any interest making sure my needs are met too)*. Moreover, though I’m quite capable of being randomly selfish, I usually feel other people’s emotions more keenly than my own, with the result that I often offer too much, more than I can really afford to give unless something is given back. At its worst, this clash of negotiation-styles leads to my being horribly hurt by a situation where I am trying to give in a way I can’t really cope with, while the others involved are furious with me because they think I’m refusing to compromise, due to the fact that they are not seeing the type of movement they expect.
  • I don’t state my position over-emphatically because I can’t see other people’s point of view, but because I can see it too easily. I don’t find it easy to cope emotionally with the internal conflict and sense of detachment from my own beliefs, values, and needs that creates.
  • Despite my value for authenticity, I have a tendency to unconscious role-playing. It drives me crazy that if someone starts acting as if they think I’m completely blind, I tend to start acting as if I was completely blind. Sometimes you have to be practical about the fact that it is more important just to get around the man-hole cover or whatever, than to explain the mistake. And sometimes it is a defensive reaction to the risk of being insulted as a malingerer, which sadly is still quite common in our society. But more often than not, it is an “emotional sponge” reaction. This is what people expect to see, think they are experiencing, and I play up to it automatically, without any sort of conscious thought being involved. INFJs tend to be more attuned to others emotions and experience than to their own – and this sort of thing is the result. It isn’t deliberate but it can create a lot of confusion about our real experience.
  • I find it extremely difficult to ask for help, even when I desperately need to – and I generally feel people are judging me for being selfish when I do. I’ve no idea how often that is real, or how often it is just a projection onto others of how I feel about asking for help. But one of the reasons that I find it so difficult to function within the church is that it is organised such that you have to demand people’s time and attention quite hard. In reality, people don’t all find that equally easy. I get really stressed and upset by needing to demand help and create conflict, and make things difficult for people, and I don’t think it is usually obvious to others that this is what is going on. Situations where I will ask for help freely are usually ones where I see others’ welfare as also being at stake, and even then I tend to get very stressed by any resulting conflict.
  • I usually get as upset by the abstractions/wider implications of an issue, as I do by the issue itself. I find this very hard to communicate to those who don’t. There’s a difference of magnitude between being upset “because the King has been shot” – what’s immediately happening – and being upset “because the King has been shot and there will probably be a massive breakdown of law and order and another world war”. If I get upset about implications or connections that others don’t see, it generally bewilders people. Sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m not. But people often seem to assume I’m upset for a reason other than the real one, and assume I’m overreacting because they don’t understand what I’m reacting to.
  • I find new information difficult because what is written on the page is only the tip of the iceberg for me. When someone suggests to me that a particular significant verse in the Bible should be interpreted in a different way, I tend to be aware that this would have effects on the refutation of the gnostic heresy, that it might mean that what’s said in such and such a hymn is inaccurate, that it has possible implications for the doctrine of double effect, may be in disagreement with the idea of calling Mary “the Mother of God”, and could offer a particular opening to Theravada Buddhist philosophy against the Christian metaphysical system. Because this is coming from a dominant function of intuition rather than being conscious thinking, I tend to become really troubled over new things until I’ve managed to explore all the implications, articulate them in actual words, and have decided for certain it won’t require me to change my overall world view significantly. It’s wearing at the best of times, and can be really distressing.
  • I find it difficult to explain things because I see too many complexities at once. So I over qualify and use too many words, and it is just confusing.
  • I find it difficult to explain things because my mind makes connections in an unusual way, and I can’t follow which connections other people make as well and which they find confusing. So I tend to either talk down to people, or completely lose them, both of which people quite justifiably find annoying. Or I say weird things because I don’t realise others don’t see the connections.
  • I over-explain not because I think you haven’t got it, but because I think I haven’t. I don’t understand things until I’ve articulated them properly. And though I am generally articulate, it doesn’t feel like it from the inside. From inside, language seems completely inadequate. And I’d like to express what I’m trying to say perfectly, not merely adequately.
  • I often sound as if I’m disagreeing not because I actually do, but because I’m trying to explore an implication or modifier, or the possible contrary arguments, or because I think the issue is more complicated than it is being stated to be. This may be more typical of those who are dominant thinkers, but I suppose there is a lot of natural variation as to when the tertiary function comes into play.
  • If I ask a question, it’s usually because I wanted to know the answer. I think in structures. I hate things that don’t make sense. I am also aware that things often make sense if you can follow through the thinking behind them, even if it is very different from yours. I am not challenging authority or telling you what you did was stupid when I ask questions. I want to know the answer. If I think it’s stupid, then I will usually tell you directly – or go off and stew for ever in silence if that is impossibly inappropriate. But a question is a question, i.e. it represents a desire for an answer! Within reason, I can live with things I don’t agree with. I can’t live with things that don’t make sense.
  • I act better in a group if I have a clearly defined role and understand the roles of others. I tend to identify closely with the role I’m supposed to have, and I tend to feel very stressed if I don’t know what it is. I liked netball at school, because each person has a specific thing to do, and has to stick to it. I could play most positions happily. But I don’t get well on with games, or in social situations, where the role isn’t a given and you have to work it out for yourself. Or if other people are technically supposed to have defined roles, and don’t play them, I struggle.
  • I’m sensitive to what other people are feeling, but I’m not at all sensitive to why. I absorb emotions, sponge like, but partly because most people don’t process things in the same way, I don’t tend to follow what’s going on for them unless they actually tell me.
  • Telling me other people are unhappy or suffering is not usually a good way of comforting me. I appreciate that it is usually meant well, in that people are trying to reassure someone that it is normal to be upset or something like that. But what I tend to find is that such comments result in an extra emotional load of suffering (from empathy) and therefore a sense of utter hopelessness.
  • I need emotional support to flourish, but I’m not good at seeking it. I find talking about anything I feel strongly difficult, though I’ve learned to do it to a certain extent over the years. The result is that I tend to speak very freely about medium strength emotion, while hiding the things I am actually in agony over when possible. When isolated, I tend to be all or nothing – either becoming unhealthily obsessed with an emotion, or supressing it completely. The outwardly turned feeling function of an INFJ tends to lead to a situation where I find it difficult to respond to my own emotions “normally” until they are articulated and reflected back to me by other people empathising. Also, because if I am hurt I tend to be very hurt and for ever, it is hard to let people in. It can be difficult to indicate to others what is needed simply because comprehension of my own feelings is less developed than it might be.

 

 

 

 

Cherry Foster

 

*I appreciate that this is not in fact the case: it depends how you process things. Though people do sometimes bring cynical false positions, people may also work out their real position by negotiating rather than pre-negotiation. I’ve no idea how this difference in approach can be dealt with.

In Both Kinds?

Aspects of a sacrament that are not required for validity can still be important.

IMG_0006
Petal-art for Corpus et Sanguis Christi beside an outdoor altar.

Suppose a priest in a High Anglican or Roman Catholic* Church turned up one hot Sunday morning in the summer in a swimming costume and started to celebrate High Mass.

To the protests of the laity, and probably diocese, suppose this priest was to respond “it doesn’t matter, the Sacrament is still valid.”

I doubt most people would feel this was a good and sufficient argument…

 

Yet exactly that argument is used to justify the denial of Communion in both kinds, either on an everyday basis, or in regarding it as something without significant value, which it is not worth bothering with when inconvenient. I am entirely with those that feel vestments and ceremony are part of the proper celebration of the Eucharist under normal conditions. I don’t think priests should celebrate the Eucharist wearing swimming costumes, or indeed, wearing ordinary clothes, without some very good reason for it.

However, vestments are part of the tradition the church has developed for the appropriate presentation and dignity of the Eucharist, while the reception of the bread and the cup are part of the original institution: it is reasonable to argue that traditions such as vestments should be considered much less important**, than reception in both kinds. And this does not currently seem to be the case.

This may be one of the issues in which someone who has studied Christian philosophy naturally has a rather different perspective from those who come to it from theology. Validity is important, but it is properly a baseline and not a ceiling from the logical point of view. Validity is a minimum. It isn’t a be-all and end-all of what we are doing – and, as I’m pointing out with the “priest-in-swimming-costume” example, we don’t use the same argument of “not necessary for validity” as a reason not to do any other element of what we normally do. For only the priest to receive the cup – or to celebrate not dressed – in a labour camp in Siberia is all very well. But what is permissible in truly exceptional circumstances doesn’t usually serve as a good guide for everyday practice. The Sacraments are not mechanical rites, to be reduced to their minimum essential elements for fairly minor reasons, but rather things to be celebrated and received with as much fullness as possible, as part of what God has given us.

I would emphasise that I do not judge anyone’s individual spirituality, or relationship with God in the Sacrament, or personal medical needs. To receive in one kind through individual choice is different from the corporate decision to offer Communion only in one kind.

However, I would suggest that those of us to whom reception in both kinds matters devotionally and spiritually, should celebrate valuing the reception of the Chalice, rather than being ashamed of caring about it. The Cup is Christ’s gift to us too, and it is good to value his gifts, according to his way of choosing to work with us.

It does at least not logically follow that because something is not necessary for the validity of a Sacrament it is not significant and important.

Cherry Foster

 

*I am not a Roman Catholic, but I think there is enough shared ground here to have a sensible academic argument on the issue!

** I.e. laid aside with a far lower threshold of reasons to do differently. (For those familiar with the language: what I am saying is that I think it would make more sense to be prepared to lay aside vestments for just cause, but to require a serious reason not to offer Communion in both kinds, than the other way around).

N.B. Lest there be any confusion, I am among the Anglicans who fully endorse the Real Presence, but reject literal Transubstantiation (or any other attempt to reduce the Real Presence to a precise human theory) as trying to reduce the mystery to a bit of human thinking, though I happily regard most of the theories as useful but limited imagery to help us enter into the mystery.