N.T. Wright, I Ching and complementarianism
About 12 days ago N. T Wright gave a most surprising and somewhat incoherent interview on homosexuality. I still don’t get most of the interview but it certainly raises many discussion points. I, for one, am wondering if there is some secret sort of Christianity floating beneath the surface that I have never heard of before. Here is the best transcript of the interview, at First Things. And here is Sarah Over the Moon’s reaction with comments.
There are far too many odd things to deal with so I am going to take a few paragraphs and have a look at them. Quoted at First Things, Wright says,
Now, the word “marriage,” for thousands of years and cross-culturally has meant man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man. There is polyandry as well as polygamy in some societies in some parts of history, but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness. I would say that without any particular Christian presuppositions at all, just cross-culturally, that’s so.
With Christian or Jewish presuppositions, or indeed Muslim, then if you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—that heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.
If you say that marriage now means something which would allow other such configurations, what you’re saying is actually that when we marry a man and a woman we’re not actually doing any of that stuff. This is just a convenient social arrangement and sexual arrangement and there it is . . . get on with it. It isn’t that that is the downgrading of marriage, it’s something that clearly has gone on for some time which is now poking it’s head above the parapet. If that’s what you thought marriage meant, then clearly we haven’t done a very good job in society as a whole and in the church in particular in teaching about just what a wonderful mystery marriage is supposed to be. Simply at that level, I think it’s a nonsense. It’s like a government voting that black should be white. Sorry, you can vote that if you like, you can pass it by a total majority, but it isn’t actually going to change the reality.
I am most interested in the middle paragraph. I never before knew or had been told that male and female were like heaven and earth. I learned that in Greek Mythology but never extended it to Christianity. But to clarify Wright’s belief’s about heaven and earth, a commenter, Alastair Roberts joined the conversation and cited Wright in an earlier book, Surprised by Hope,
These are Wright’s own words from page 116 of the book in question, within a section titled ‘the marriage of heaven and earth’:
Heaven and earth, it seems, are not after all poles apart, needing to be separated for ever when all the children of heaven have been rescued from this wicked earth. Nor are they simply different ways of looking at the same thing, as would be implied by some kinds of pantheism. No: they are different, radically different; but they are made for each other in the same way (Revelation is suggesting) as male and female. And, when they finally come together, that will be cause for rejoicing in the same way that a wedding is: a creational sign that God’s project is going forwards; that opposite poles within creation are made for union, not competition; that love and not hate have the last word in the universe; that fruitfulness and not sterility is God’s will for creation. [emphasis added]
Does this make Wright’s complementarianism clear? And do we see the natural parallel between heaven and earth and male and female. I had never seen this outside of a pagan context until very recently. Oddly, just a few weeks ago, I read an essay by Peter Kreeft on gender in heaven. Here he writes with much more detail,
But why is Christ’s maleness essential? Because he is the revelation of the Father, and the Father’s masculinity is essential. This is the second half of our equation.
To understand this second proposition, we must distinguish “male” from “masculine.” Male and female are biological genders. Masculine and feminine, or yang and yin, are universal, cosmic principles, extending to all reality, including spirit.
All pre-modern civilizations knew this. English is almost the only language that does not have masculine and feminine nouns. So it is easy for us who speak English to believe that the ancients merely projected their own biological gender out onto nature in calling heaven masculine and earth feminine, day masculine and night feminine, sun masculine and moon feminine, land masculine and sea feminine. In the Hindu marriage ceremony the bridegroom says to the bride, “I am heaven, you are earth.” The bride replies, “I am earth, you are heaven.” Not only is cosmic sexuality universal, its patterns are suspiciously consistent. Most cultures saw the sun, day, land, light, and sky as male; moon, night, sea, darkness, and earth as female. Is it not incredibly provincial and culturally arrogant for us to assume, without a shred of proof, that this universal and fairly consistent human instinct is mere projection, myth, fantasy, and illusion rather than insight into a cosmic principle that is really there?
Once we look, we find abundant analogical evidence for it from the bottom of the cosmic hierarchy to the top, from the electromagnetic attraction between electrons and protons to the circumincession of divine Persons in the Trinity. Male and female are only the biological version of cosmic masculine and feminine. God is masculine to everything, from angels to prime matter. That is the ultimate reason why priests, who represent God to us, must be male.
I had a lot of trouble reading this. First, only about one quarter of languages use gender, that is sexual gender, to classify nouns. Some languages use animate, inanimate, some use tall and short, some use young and old. Some have no noun classes at all. But definitely the ones that use sex as a basis for classifying nouns are in the minority.
Next, certainly Greek myths indicate that the sky was masculine and earth was feminine. However, earlier Mediterranean religions had a male storm God and a female Sun God. Some countries today still have a female Sun God. But back to European languages, in French le soleil m.and la lune, f., but in German die Sonne, f. and der Mond, m. There is no gender consistency even in such a small pool.
And no I don’t see males as light, sunny, dry and open, vs. females as wet, dark, and earthy, made for the night. (Oh yeah, I can see where some men might like this comparison. 😉 And on one last note, is the electron male or female? I found that some think she is female and others think he is male. Really it is enough to give you a headache. Somehow, the notion of a binary sexualized universe is being called up to support heterosexuality.
But my universe is made of 2)heaven and hell; 3)land, sea and air; birds, fish, animals; protons, neutrons and electrons; 4) north, south, east, west, 5) five fingers on your hand, 6) six sides to the beehive cell, 7) seven, notes in the scale 8) eight – how many children are in my family, and so on.
If N. T. Wright and Peter Kreeft want a syncretistic I Ching Christianity, then they need to make this clear and the rest of us can wander off and stop scratching our heads. We will just write it off as another off shoot cult of Christianity, and let it go.
One last point, hasn’t “heaven and earth” traditionally be treated as a merism which connects to opposing terms to include everthing in between? “Heaven and earth” refers to the totality of all creation. And male and female refers the totality of all humans, male, female and everything in between.
One of the best passages to read on the use of “heaven and earth” is in The Dance Between God and Humanity: Reading the Bible Today As the People of God, Bruce K. Waltke, pages 166 and following. Waaltke also points out that in Rev. 21, both night and sea will cease to exist. In Peter Kreeft’s terms, this implies the anihilation of the female. These arguments put forward by Kreeft and Wright are deeply denying and alienating of anyone but a straight male. It all needs to be tossed. Read the Hebrew Bible with someone who knows how to read Hebrew. Waltke is a complementarian but I have not typically seen him read too many unwarranted assumptions into a text.