Thursday, July 24, 2008
(3:40 PM) | Dominic:
Wednesday Sex: Not Just For WednesdaysWe might ask what it is about sexual difference that makes it different from other differences, from the difference that is "what there is" according to Badiou. In particular, what is it about sexual difference that affords it, according to a familiar line of critique, the power of delegitimising any and every project of universality, any and every construction of a "same" capable in principle of including everyone?
The kernel of the problem emerges with some clarity in the context of arguments against women's priesthood. Christ - so the argument goes - is simultaneously the "son of man", humanity restored to its original creaturely perfection, and "biologically" male. If we affirm that Christ is God incarnate, then we affirm that he is not not human, and therefore not not the bearer of a binary sexual trait: not not a man. Now, the role of the priest is to personate, imperfectly, Christ's perfect humanity: to be the "vicar" of Christ. The humanity of the priest is vicariously Christ's humanity; in particular, his biological maleness is vicariously Christ's biological maleness. The humanity of women cannot be vicariously Christ's humanity, because it obviates Christ's biological maleness: the woman priest figures forth in her female person a castrated Christ, a Christ missing part of his full humanity. It follows that a Christ capable of being personated vicariously by a human being of the opposite sex would not be a fully-human Christ; and a church that affirmed a less-than-fully-human Christ would have to be considered wholly renegade.
Now, the discrepancies between the humanity of this or that male or female (or otherwise-appointed) person and the humanity of Christ are clearly necessarily manifold. There is no vicariousness without discrepancy, no priesthood without unchristlikeness. But we must then distinguish between two kinds of discrepancy: that between perfection and imperfection, and that between likeness and unlikeness. What opponents of women's priesthood seem to think is that the male priest's manhood, if perfected, would become Christ's manhood: his distance from Christ is his imperfection. A woman cannot be perfected into Christ: perfect womanhood is Mary. Women are not more imperfect than men, but differently imperfect (and differently perfectible). There is between Christ and Mary, two models of perfection, a symmetrical relationship of like to unlike rather than an asymmetrical relationship of perfect to imperfect.
One may well feel that this entire schema is simply too stupid for words. Nevertheless, there exist counter-arguments. For me the most convincing is that which begins by acknowledging that Christ's full humanity entails that he bears, like all human beings, an amalgam of particular traits: the person of Jesus is, in particular, male and Jewish; but also Nazarene, the son of a carpenter, a subject of the Roman Empire and so on. Jesus of Bethnal Green would be a different person from Jesus of Nazareth, as would Jesus the son of a private equity fund manager. A Haitian Jesus would be in certain respects more Jesus-like than an American one. None of these traits can be said to be either more "contingent" or more "essential" than any of the others. What can it mean for such an amalgam to be perfected?
It is quite possible for a particular human individual to bear traits that, carried all their way to their ideal forms, are finally incompatible with each other. "Being myself" means being a rattlebag of things that don't especially go together, which is what makes "being true to myself" such a doubtful enterprise; one can only "be true to" that which is subtracted from such an amalgam. (The ever-popular alternative is to make an idol of some figment of oneself and repress the remainder). What makes Christ truly Christ is not in fact the amalgam of traits that he bears, but that he calls God "Father". To imitate Christ is first of all to pray as Christ prayed, and taught his disciples to pray: "Our father..."
The joint predication of Christ's perfection and of his maleness does not specify an ultra-male Christ, but a Christ whose amalgam of particular traits, maleness among them, is made the support of a filiation. There remains a difficulty, obviously, over the masculine coding of this filiation. A Christ who prayed to the Goddess, to the universal mother, would no longer be the Son of the Father. This is a serious problem, which has at bottom to do with the purity of the male line. For the time being, let's just note that the address-structure of the Lord's Prayer is universal at one of its posts: anyone can be an addressor. The Son announces that all are to address the Father as "father", undoing the binding of the male line to a single male heir. Christian fidelity is the impure filiation of impurity - of human beings, in all their amalgamated particularity - to that which, subtracting itself from the differences which are "what there is" in the amalgam, convokes a new body, a novel configuration of the nothing new.
Whatever personal qualities or qualifications one might desire in a minister, and however one might attempt to evaluate the viability of a person's professed vocation to the priesthood, it is clear that in the matter of vicarious personation of Christ what counts is that one should be human, bearing an incompossible amalgam of traits, and that one should place this amalgam in support of a universal filiation. There is no single trait, be it of race, gender or sexual orientation, that can separate anyone from this filiation. Or bind them to it, for that matter: there is no priestly caste. Literally anyone can be called to be a priest - a thought which is not altogether comforting.