Friday, June 12, 2015

On Gender Transition, Biological Prisons, and Gnosticism: Bob Shine Responds to Fr. Robert Barron About Caitlyn Jenner Story

In a thought-provoking statement at New Ways Ministry's Bondings 2.0 blog, Bob Shines responds to the influential Catholic televangelist Father Robert Barron as Barron addresses the Caitlyn Jenner story. Barron's take: Bruce Jenner regarded his male body as a "prison" from which he needed to escape by transitioning to the female gender. But:

For Biblical people, the body can never be construed as a prison for the soul, nor as an object for the soul’s manipulation.

And so, for Barron, "the lionization of Caitlyn Jenner amounts to an embracing of Gnosticism." Transgender folks like Caitlyn Jenner and anyone who "lionizes" Caitlyn Jenner are bringing back the hoary old heresy of Gnosticism which views the body as a prison for the soul.

Bob Shine's response to Barron's thesis is absolutely correct:

In response to Fr. Barron, I would say that the decision to present and live as or transition to one’s authentic gender identity is the very opposite of Gnosticism. These are acts of integration, allowing some to be embodied in their reality in ways authentic to the person God is calling them forth to be. It is incarnational, not gnostic.

As I said several days ago in commenting on this story, it's the position taken by conservative Christians including members of the Catholic hierarchy these days that — unconvincingly, for most thinking human beings — concludes that biological gender should constitute some kind of divine imprisonment for human beings, and that to question the gender roles that conservative Christians see premised on these biological prisons is to question the creator of said prisons.

To construe as Gnosticism people's choice to live beyond the imprisonment of biologically grounded gender roles — of biology as destiny, in the area of gender — is to stand Gnosticism on its head, as Bob Shine points out. People choosing the gender that they experience as their given gender despite the gender assigned to them according to biological determinations are seeking to fulfill their humanity, not to escape from it.

Just as women seeking to live as full, authentic human beings in a world which tells them that women should be thus and so and always subordinate to males are not seeking to escape from their human destiny as women. They're seeking to fulfill it.

And just as gay people who point out that the rigid male-female dichotomies assigned by conservative Christian teaching to men and women don't fit the experience of many human beings, including those born gay, are seeking to live their full human lives as gay people — not to escape from their gay bodies.

Nothing is more quintessentially Gnostic than Catholic magisterial teaching about gender and human sexuality. This teaching is gnostic in the classic sense of that term because it claims to have a privileged knowledge about matters sexual hidden from everyone but the ostensibly celibate men running the Catholic church.

A majority of lay Catholics — the people actually living with these issues of gender and sexuality in the real world — have long since rejected the hidden, gnostic knowledge of the hierarchy about these matters, because it runs against the grain of our lived experience as disciples of Christ carrying out our vocations in the world. Asking us to bow to the gnostic knowledge of the hierarchy simply because Father tells us that knowledge is privileged and must be correct, given its source: I can think of few heresies as destructive to the very foundations of Catholic faith than this one.

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