Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Parable of the Net

or..............The changing tariffs for sin
 "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In the Christian tradition, hell is not seen as being beyond Jesus’ reach although Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, argued (2nd December 2009)  that gay men will never go to heaven and are an insult to God. This statement was subsequently toned down by the well practised Vatican press office and "Insiders" but there we have the idea in a nutshell.  The Cardinal seems to have stolen the responsibility for selecting souls from the angels themselves and he has willingly taken on that role. In doing so, the Cardinal  predictably incurred the wrath of the gay community around the world without actually surprising anyone. The Cardinal attracted even more ridicule for his own branch of Christianity in the media as if that denomination wasn't in enough trouble in the public imagination.

Is sin eternal or does the
tariff of sin change?
© Godric Godricson
 Gay men and possibly Lesbians didn’t have to wait for the Cardinal to make his pronouncement. Gay men have been quite sure (from the teachings of the Church)  that they will join in Dante’s 7th circle of Hell. Gay men has usually been seen by the Church as being damned without recourse to a complaints procedure. The implicit teaching of the Church has been that Jesus would not want to save gay men as opposed to the idea that Jesus could not save gay men. 

We may speculate on salvation in an erudite manner although in reality gay men are seen negatively in the New Testament and as such their souls have been perceived as ‘persona non grata’ in heaven. This does  have repercussions on the cemetery as a place of re-integration, where the living and the dead come together and where the departed start their journey to the other side

I think that the 21st century has been a real problem for the Churches in the United Kingdom and  for the Mexican Cardinal. Monogamous, long-term gay couples are increasingly part of legal civil relationships from 2005 and recognised by the state even if loving gay and lesbian partnerships are actively despised by competing denominations who often contradict each other. The usual anti-gay clamour seems to have subsided a little around Europe but what to do about the souls of gay men and the  unity of the cemetery? Are gay men’s souls really so intrinsically disordered and corrupt that they cannot be saved or  can the souls of gay men ever be seen as  “Righteous”. We have seen what the traditional Church has said but should gay men  continue to be judged by such terms as “Sodomy”, “Carnality” and “lust”? Is it the case that  gay men should be kept out of the cemetery and the salvific ministry of Jesus and be separated into a sort of ‘apartheid’ cemetery for the perpetually fallen? Could we say "Equal but separate", in terms of burial?

The cemetery as a place
of community
© Godric Godricson
 Matthew delegated the job of selecting the souls of the “Wicked” or “Righteous to the angels and it seems that they will decide our fate but we may ask what are the criteria for selection into the Kingdom of God and has the criteria changed recently? Certainly, 100 years ago being gay in the United Kingdom would have incurred severe legal penalties on Earth and would have consigned the accused to prison and hard labour or even death. I’m sure that the burial plot next door may have been cheaper if the sins of the interred person were known What about now? Does a change in the 21st century civil and criminal law and an increasing acceptance of gay men mean that souls already consigned  to hell will now be raised up and re-assigned a place in heaven by the angels? Could Oscar Wilde be judged “louch” but “Righteous” or will he remain a “sodomite” and remain in hell? With secular legality why do we still encounter homosexuality as a sin within the Church?  What to think in changing times and what to think about a place in the cemetery? How does sin play out in heaven when so many members of the Church hierarchy are gay even if they work so hard to 'hush-up' that guilty little secret?

We are used to seeing on monuments “Dear Father”, “Wonderful wife” but these  may soon augmented by “Dutiful Civil partner”? What will it mean for cemeteries when marriage between same sex couples is legalised in the UK by 2015? The imagery and contours of the cemetery will be challenged and changed and so will the sensibilities of visitors to the cemetery. What was once taboo will be out and proud so to speak. Now, this development may be more for the civil cemetery rather than being seen in the parish but I will turn my eyes to the courts from 2015 onwards to see which cemetery is the first to be hit by a claim against them based on discrimination.

Saint Botolph Banningham
© Godric Godricson
 This idea of comparative judgements of “Sin”, “Wickedness” or “Righteousness” fluctuating over time may seem frivolous but it has significance for real people as they try to understand the actions of the Church, their own options for the afterlife and  ideas about their last resting place and monuments. Do we happily trust the angels to judge our lives and if they do judge are they judging for just now or for all time? Do we listen to the Mexican Cardinal as he permanently refuses admittance to a percentage of God’s creation? Increasingly, we may ask "just how permanent is damnation and what does that mean?". How serious is it to be condemned to hell by a Cardinal anyway?  If we all go to heaven do some people have a better circle in heaven just as Dante would have circles in hell. Are some seats closer to God and how are they allocated?  The Churches still retain great powers of leadership and the state tries to harness that power for its own particular ends.

In the UK, David Cameron appears somewhat confused and, on one hand, would like people to take upon themselves distinctly Christian values whilst he also espouses socially progressive tendencies such as gay marriage. The Cardinal, in 2009,  and his denomination choose to speak in a traditional manner about gay men and the state of their souls although this does have some distinct repercussions for those currently living and their choices in the future? What is “judgement” and what is “eternity” and how do we record that event on the tombstone? Perhaps. rather than inscribing into granite, we should merely have a chalk board and change the details every few years or so!

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